Cubs

The sky is not falling: Reason for optimism regarding Cubs' playoff chances

The sky is not falling: Reason for optimism regarding Cubs' playoff chances

The Cubs are obviously not off to the start they want in their title defense campaign, but things aren't as gloomy as their 25-26 record would indicate.

Yes, the 2017 Cubs have 20 more losses than they did a year ago at the time of their 25th victory (they began 2016 on a torrid 25-6 pace). 

In fact, the Cubs didn't even reach their 26th loss until June 25 last season and they had already racked up 48 wins and 10-game lead in the division by that point. By comparison, on the final day of May last season, the Cubs were 35-15 with a +128 run differential and 6.5 lead over the 29-22 Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central.

Following five straight losses, the Cubs woke up Wednesday morning with only a +1 run differential, but they're also only 1.5 games out of first place thanks to the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers winning just three of their last 10 games apiece.

Currently, the NL Central is far and away the worst division in baseball, which is interesting given this is the same unit that sent three teams to the playoffs in 2015.

But it's the weakness of the division that is the Cubs' saving grace right now, at least in terms of panic.

In fact, FanGraphs' playoff odds still give the Cubs an 85.6 percent chance of making the postseason:

That's down from 95.6 percent at the start of the season, but the Cardinals (46.3 percent down to 44 percent) and Pirates (15.5 percent down to 9.4 percent) have also seen a drop in their own playoff odds while the first-place Milwaukee Brewers are only handed a 6 percent chance of making the postseason.

Coming off the 7-2 homestand a little over a week ago, the Cubs were 25-21 and sitting atop the division heading into a weekend in Los Angeles. At that time, the Cubs' playoff odds sat at 93.3 percent wiht an expected won-loss record of 93-69.

So things have dropped a bit thanks to this five-game losing streak — Cubs are now projected to go 90-72 with those 85.6 percent odds of making the postseason — but it's not as precipitious as it may seem. Part of the freak-out is because two of those losses have come to the San Diego Padres, the only team that woke up Wednesday morning with a 0.0 percent chance of making the playoffs.

FanGraphs still gives the Cubs an 11.7 percent chance to win the World Series, down only slightly from the 15.3 percent on Opening Day.

Only the Los Angeles Dodgers (19.4 percent), Cleveland Indians (15.3 percent) and Houston Astros (15.1 percent) have better odds to win it all.

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

According to David Kaplan, the Cubs have made their decision on a new manager. And to no surprise, they've landed on David Ross.

Ross was widely speculated as the heir apparent to Joe Maddon and that's exactly how the situation has played out. The team also interviewed current bench coach Mark Loretta, first-base coach Will Venable and former Cubs player and Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

Ross retired after the 2016 season and has spent the last three seasons working in a special assistant role in Theo Epstein's front office while also serving as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN. He has not coached or managed at any level. 

During his two years as a player with the Cubs, Ross was an integral part of changing the culture inside the clubhouse and is revered as a legendary leader to all the young players that came up and helped end the 108-year championship drought. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant affectionately dubbed him "Grandpa Rossy" and he rode that popularity on the shoulders of his teammates in a Rudy-esque celebration after Game 7 and then a stint on "Dancing with the Stars." Every time he is shown on the video board at Wrigley Field, it elicits a deafening cheer from Cubs fans.

Even three years since he last donned the uniform, Ross' impact remains and the Cubs have been searching for the type of clubhouse leadership he provided. Earlier this season, Javy Baez brought up Ross unprompted, mentioning advice from his former teammate that he still thinks about on a daily basis.

The question was never really if and more about when Ross was going to get a chance to manage the Cubs in the future. Just last fall, he was brought up as a potential option to replace Brandon Hyde as Maddon's bench coach, but Ross still wanted to spend time with family in retirement and wasn't yet ready to commit to the grind of a long season. 

Still, Epstein mentioned at the GM Meetings last November that he and the front office were pushing Ross to be around the team more in 2019. GM Jed Hoyer followed that up at the Winter Meetings in December talking about how much of an impact Ross has on these players and the level of trust that's already inherent within this group.

Apparently, Ross is now willing and able to put in the 7-to-8 month time commitment to step in as the Cubs' new manager. When it was officially announced Maddon would not be returning, Ross was on ESPN's Baseball Tonight and expressed interest in the job and Epstein confirmed the next day Ross was on the team's list of managerial candidates.

Epstein mentioned he would prefer hiring a manager with big-league experience and the main theme of his end-of-season press conference was all about change, not hanging their hats on 2016 and climbing out of the "winner's trap." But they still opted for Ross as the organization's new field general.

"I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before, especially with manager," Epstein said on the final day of September. "I think there are ways for that to be overcome. There’s a lot of different ways to get experience in this game. Beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.

“David Ross has a lot of great things going for him, I would say. His connection to the players on this team, and especially his connection to the 2016 team, are not necessarily assets that distinguish him. Those are not necessarily things that are gonna be important to us.

“I think Rossy is a really attractive candidate, and he’s gonna be evaluated on the merits, what he can bring to the table as a major league manager given his skills, given his experiences, given his world-view, given what he knows about winning, all those things.”

We now know how that evaluation process has played out.

The question now becomes — how would the Cubs players handle Ross as a manager, moving from friend and teammate to boss? 

We'll find out in the coming months.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Mailbag edition

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Mailbag edition

3:00 - Listener question: Espada or Ross? Kelly Crull shares some inside info on Joe Espada

7:30 - Kelly talks about David Ross' second interview for the Cubs managerial job.

11:30 - Listener question: Say it is Espada, do you see any way David Ross comes on as a coach behind Espada?

13:30 - Listener question: Could the team regress further due to a lack of familiarity with a new manager?

20:10 - Listener question: How hard will Theo and Jed go after Gerrit Cole? And if he's not available who else is?

23:30 - Listener question: Are you trying to extend Castellanos?

26:00 - Listener question: If you sign Castellanos are you also trading Kyle Schwarber?

28:45 - Listener question: Should the Cubs trade Kris Bryant? What would they get back in return?

33:00 - Lighting round: Will Nico Hoerner be the opening day second baseman and keep the job in 2020?

33:10 - Lightning round: Will the Cubs bring back Cole Hamels?

33:45 - Can we and should we clone Javy Baez so we have a fresh Javy when he retires, or is that unethical?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

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