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What? The Cubs?

A Baseball Prospectus formula projects who has the stuff to win in October. It's not as crazy as it sounds (really)

Posted: Tuesday July 10, 2007 1:03PM; Updated: Tuesday July 10, 2007 1:03PM
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Zambrano (above) and Papelbon would bring star heat to a wild Series
Zambrano (above) and Papelbon would bring star heat to a wild Series matchup.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

By Nate Silver

Even by their famously futile standards, the last few seasons have been cruel to the Cubs, whose historical, geographical and metaphysical rivals have won title after title: the Cardinals (2006), White Sox ('05) and Red Sox ('04). But if manager Lou Piniella can leverage Chicago's hot streak before the All-Star break -- a 12-4 run to close within 4 1/2 games of the Brewers -- into a playoff appearance, the Cubs might finally have this to cheer about (deep breath here): their first World Series appearance in 62 years.

That's suggested by Baseball Prospectus's Secret Sauce, which is based on three ingredients that strongly correlate with postseason success: a team's strikeout rate, or Equivalent K/9 (EqK9), adjusted for a team's league and ballpark; its quality of defense, or Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), an estimate of the runs a defense has saved or cost its pitchers relative to the league average; and its strength of closer, or Win Expectation Above Replacement (WXRL), which measures the wins the closer has saved versus what a replacement-level alternative would have done. In other words, teams that prevent the ball from going into play, catch it when it does and preserve late-inning leads are likely to excel in the playoffs. The formula pointed to the surprising matchup between the White Sox and the Astros in the 2005 World Series (not to mention Chicago's title), in addition to the unlikely championships of the 1990 Reds and the 2002 Angels.

With a staff of power arms and Jonathan Papelbon anchoring the bullpen, the Red Sox, at the All-Star break, had the best Secret Sauce rating, which is compiled by adding the EqK9, FRAA and WXRL rankings. The Cubs, however, weren't far behind. They led the majors in EqK9 behind Rich Hill (third in the NL), Ted Lilly (seventh) and Carlos Zambrano (eighth). Their defense, which has benefited from Alfonso Soriano's move to left from center, and Rob Bowen and Koyie Hill replacing Michael Barrett at catcher, is also among the best. And while closer Ryan Dempster can conjure up memories of Mitch Williams with his control issues, he has been effective when healthy (16 saves in 18 chances, a .178 opponents' batting average and nearly a K per inning).

It adds up to -- billy goats, Bartmen and erstwhile Bambino curses be damned -- a potentially saucy Fall Series featuring the Cubs and the Red Sox, both of them built on power arms and defense, no less.

RED SOX 7.2 3 10 8 Papelbon 3.43 3 14
CUBS 7.5 1 25 4 Dempster 1.93 13 18
ANGELS 6.8 8 17 T5 Rodriguez 2.64 5 18.5
METS 6.4 T14 28 3 Wagner 3.19 4 21.5
DODGERS 7.4 2 -11 23 Saito 3.74 2 27