I read an interesting article in The Hardball Times the other day which discusses, among other things, the predictive power of a good start to the season.  I’m not going to talk about that article here, but I will say that I like the way the author, Brandon Isleib, breaks up the 162 game season into nine 18-game chunks; it’s a nice way to think about the season.

The Cubs just completed their first 18-game chunk in grand fashion, obliterating the Pirates by a score of 13-6 on Sunday.  They went 12-6 in their first chunk, and, for the most part, looked good doing so.  Unlike last year’s success, which was largely driven by consistent starting pitching, this year’s success has been the product of phenomenal hitting: the Cubs are currently 2nd in the NL in runs, first in batting average, first in OBP (!!!!!!!!!!), second in walks (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), and first in doubles.  It does not take a genius to figure out that the Cubs’ offensive prowess is not sustainable; every single Cub regular save Soriano and Pie is beating his preseason projection and/or career average and will almost certainly fall back to earth.  The fall won’t be as bad as if the Cubs’ success were entirely built on BAbip luck, however; guys like Fukudome and Lee and Soto will still take their walks, even if Ramirez and DeRosa start walking less.

Some of the falling back to earth may occur in the next 18-game chunk, in which the Cubs will face the Mets (2 games), Rockies (2 games), Nationals (3 games), Brewers (3 games), St. Louis (3 games), Cincinnati (3 games), and Diamondbacks (2 games).  There’s nine games in that stretch versus legitimately good teams (12 if you count St. Louis, which I don’t), and the Reds aren’t terrible, either.  Luckily, the Cubs miss Johan Santana (although the prospect of a Santana/Zambrano matchup makes me a little giddy), and hopefully they’ll miss Brandon Webb or Dan Haren.  If the Cubs can pull off a 10-8 record in this next chunk, I’ll be happy.

What do the rest of the chunks look like?  A quick preview:

CHUNK 3: 1 vs. Arizona, 4 vs. San Diego, 3 vs. Pittsburgh, 3 @ Houston, 3 @ Pittsburgh, 3 vs. LA, 1 vs. Colorado

CHUNK 4: 3 vs. Colorado, 3 @ San Diego, 4 @ LA, 3 vs. Atlanta, 3 @ Toronto, 2 @ Tampa Bay

CHUNK 5: 1 @ Tampa Bay, 3 vs. White Sox, 3 vs. Baltimore, 3 @ White Sox, 4 @ SF, 3 @ St. Louis, 1 vs. Cincinnati

CHUNK 6: 2 vs. Cincinnati, 3 vs. SF, <All-Star Break>, 3 @ Houston, 3 @ Arizona, 4 vs. Florida, 3 @ Milwaukee

CHUNK 7: 1 @ Milwaukee, 3 vs. Pittsburgh, 3 vs. Houston, 3 vs. St. Louis, 3 @ Atlanta, 3 @ Florida, 2 vs. Cincinnati

CHUNK 8: 1 vs. Cincinnati, 3 vs. Washington, 3 @ Pittsburgh, 4 vs. Philadelphia, 3 vs. Houston, 3 @ Cincinnati, 1 @ St. Louis

CHUNK 9: 2 @ St. Louis, 3 @ Houston, 3 vs. Milwaukee, 3 vs. St. Louis, 4 @ New York, 3 @ Milwaukee

Some observations: Chunk 4 and Chunk 9 appear to be the toughest chunks.  Chunk 4 could be particularly brutal: I don’t consider any of those teams bad, and the Cubs never seem to do well at Petco.  I’m not sure how to feel about the Cubs ending the season with a seven game road trip against two teams they could be battling for playoff spots: on the one hand, “their fate will be in their own hands,” as hacky TV dudes like to say.  On the other hand, their fate will be in their own hands, and they are the Cubs.  What I’m hoping for—what all Cubs fans are hoping for, I think—is that the Cubs have the division wrapped up by that last road trip, and the Mets have their division wrapped up, making those games meaningless.  Not likely, though: what are the chances the Cubs can be at least eight games ahead with seven to go?  The nightmare scenario: the Cubs go into New York up a couple games over the Brewers, get swept (or beaten three out of four), travel to Milwaukee tied for the division lead, and lose on the last day of the season.

This may all seem ridiculous given that it’s April and the Cubs are 12-6, but look at the name of this blog; it’s never too early to get ready for the turning of the knife.  The more ready you are, the less it hurts.

All that being said, go Cubs!

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