The Cubs celebrate after a win over the Padres.

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Bernstein: You OK With The Cubs, Yet?

By any measure, the Cubs are in control with ample room to improve too.

Dan Bernstein
July 16, 2018 - 2:43 pm

(670 The Score) As arbitrary assessment points go, few work better than the All-Star break for figuring out how well a given team is performing relative to expectations, as it supplies a large enough sample of performance and more than enough time to examine it in fine detail.

The 2018 Cubs so far have had a knack for always keeping a particular subsection of finicky fans well less than satisfied for whatever the latest reason, be it misplaced quibbles with lineup construction or perfectly reasonable worries about an underachieving starting rotation. Call it the successful raising of the bar or the curse of a near-perfect trip two years ago, but the ride to this point has been bumpy.

And yet, here are the facts: The Cubs are the best team in the National League, leading the National League Central at 55-38, a record that has them five clear of the Brewers in the loss column and four clear of any other NL team. The Cubs lead MLB in aggregate position-player Wins Above Replacement at 20.5, per Fangraphs, ahead of the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros. They are also baseball's best defensively, leading the way with 43.7 defensive runs above average and a UZR/150 of 10.0. They're third-best at baserunning, too, with 8.6 runs above average in that category.

And this is with the pitching still lagging but expecting the return of Yu Darvish from elbow/triceps inflammation and the still-possible marginalization of the ineffective Tyler Chatwood. Not to mention that Anthony Rizzo is only hitting .246/.341/.407 and Kris Bryant is underperforming his career numbers across the board and has missed 23 games due to injury.

Those twin tent poles can be expected to return to form, the already solid bullpen should receive deadline reinforcement of some kind and the starting pitching will benefit from once again featuring one of the best arms in the game.

Looking at the number of better American League teams shouldn't be as intimidating as it appears, because only one of them can be a potential World Series opponent. The playoffs are ruled by variance regardless, and all that's really in a team's control is securing a playoff spot that avoids the randomness of the wild-card play-in game.

By this measure, the Cubs are in control, in first place and well rested, with key contributors set to rebound and recover. It may have taken some fits and starts to get here, but they're now given an 89.2 percent chance of winning the division by Fangraphs' projections and 83 percent by Baseball Prospectus. The latter also calculates the Cubs as the second favorite to win the World Series, at a 15.7 percent chance that trails only the Astros at 17.4 percent.

Even the most critical fan would've taken this position at this time, had it been offered.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.