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MESA, Ariz. — How much would have to go wrong for the Cubs to not only miss out on the playoffs, but somehow end up in last place in the National League Central?

A year ago, it was pretty much Murphy's Law around the Cubs: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Kris Bryant didn't have a healthy day after mid-May and his power numbers took a serious hit. The Cubs got very little contributions from the top three pitchers they added over the winter (Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tyler Chatwood) between injuries and ineffectiveness. The schedule did the Cubs no favors, Pedro Strop got injured at the absolute wrong time, nearly every young hitter struggled in the second half and even Mr. Reliable Steve Cishek seemingly ran into a wall down the stretch.

Yet they still won 95 games, which you might have heard reference to a time or two this offseason.

But apparently PECOTA doesn't think the Cubs will be able to rise above adversity again in 2019.

The Baseball Prospectus projection system initially pegged the Cubs for 82 wins when it was first released last week, but an update now has them at 80-82 for the season, firmly in last place in the National League Central. Yes, that's a below-.500 record for a team with championship aspirations and a slot finishing behind both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds (pegged for 81-81 records) in the division.

"Wow that's cool," Kyle Schwarber said sarcastically when he found out about the projections. "I guess they want to be different, right? They want to get some publicity, I guess. I think we all know what we have in this clubhouse, but baseball's baseball. It *might* happen, but I'm betting on it won't happen.

 

"I don't think we'll [finish last] so next question."

Pedro Strop is one of the leading voices in the clubhouse and he didn't bat an eye when told about PECOTA's projections, simply shrugging his shoulders and referencing how much the teams in the division improved this winter while the Cubs haven't made many moves.

"Our division got a lot better," Strop said. "It's not that we went down. It's just the other teams have gotten better, too. It's not a secret."

So are the Cubs being underrated by external projections and talking heads?

"Honestly, I don't care," Strop said. "It doesn't matter if you're underrated, you're still going to have to go and play those games in the season. We'll find out if we're underrated after the season.

"If we lose a bunch of games, we weren't underrated. But if we win and we win the World Series, that means we're underrated. It's too early to say that."

Obviously PECOTA is just one computer projection and not reflective of any one person's opinion. They also weigh value in different ways than other projections, placing an emphasis on framing from catchers (where Willson Contreras rates very poorly) and overall defense while essentially predicting the Cubs' aging pitching staff will take a step back across the board.

There's also the fact they only added Daniel Descalso, Brad Brach, Xavier Cedeno and Tony Barnette to the group this winter while the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers all made big splashes.

Then again, winning the offseason rarely translates to wins in the regular season.

Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. initially said he doesn't pay any attention to external projections, but admitted this could also be extra motivation for a Cubs team that already came into camp with a chip on its shoulder.

"Of course," Edwards said. "You have to. The last couple years, we have been that team to beat. I still feel the same way about it. I still feel like we're the team to beat, regardless of how other teams have stepped up."

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