Many fans and players believe in outside forces that affect a team. Be it luck, the baseball gods, or an almighty curse, some things just defy logic. The past 2 seasons the Cubs were in prime position to get a top draft pick then inexplicably performed better to finish each season. On July 30th of last year the Cubs were 42-65 (.393) and lined up for the second draft pick. They finished the year 29-26 (.527) and ended up with the sixth pick. In 2010 the team was 50-73 (.407) on August 20th for the 5th worst record. They finished the year 25-14 (.641) and ended up with the 9th pick. It’s been frustrating watching the team be terrible most of the year and then turn it around at the worst possible time. This year I’ve worried about the same thing.
On September 6th the team was 5 games ahead of Colorado for the second pick in next year’s draft. Since then the Cubs went 7-4 and have slipped to a half game lead over Colorado. Dropping one spot wouldn’t be terrible but we’re also now only 3 games ahead of Cleveland and Minnesota.
Looking at the remaining schedules, the Cubs seem to have the easiest. Each team has two series at home and two on the road. The Cubs get the Cards at home – who they always play tough despite the standings; head to Coors in a pivotal series for draft positioning; the team then travels to Arizona who are still clinging on to playoff hopes; and finish the season at home against Houston, who has only won 16 games on the road all year. The Rockies schedule isn’t all that much tougher only facing one team over .500 – the Dodgers – but they do face Arizona for 7 games who are not out of the playoff picture just yet. Colorado also has one more game than the other 3 teams and it’s at home. The Indians have the most balanced schedule facing the 9th best and 8th worst teams in baseball twice each. The Twins on the other hand have a brutal schedule with 9 of their remaining 12 games against teams fighting for their playoff lives.
If the Cubs over-perform the final weeks of the season, it could easily knock us down to 5th in next year’s draft. But does that really matter? In the 2011 draft we ended up with Javier Baez at 9th and he is now our top prospect, and should be in – or pretty damn close – to the top 25 prospects lists beginning next year. This year we took Albert Almora 6th, and after the draft the Cubs claimed he was #1 on their draft board anyway. This is supported a bit by the Cubs passing on Mark Appel who was seen as the best player going into the draft. Those picks look pretty good right now despite the Cubs late season success.
If you looked at my study on the Success Rates of MLB Draft Picks by Slot, you would know that it’s extremely important to be in the top 5 for rebuilding teams. It’s the smartest way to turn around a ball club. The Cubs are all but locked in there. Within the top 5, other than being number one overall, the results are pretty similar 2-4, with number 5 falling off a bit. Since the Cubs have relatively no chance to catch Houston for the first pick and are locked in to the top 5, statistically speaking, I have no problem with them finishing out the season as strong as possible. While I am less-than-thrilled about their recent and the potential to close the year with a pick worse than #2, I’d rather not have to root against the team. And If there are baseball gods, then don’t the Cubs deserve to be rewarded (again?) for playing hard the whole year.