Be warned Chicago: Playoffs don't always reward best teams
Winners of five straight, the Chicago Cubs are now 20 games over .500. They lead the NL Central by 6 1/2 games, and if this keeps up, the rest of the summer will be full of anticipation around Wrigley Field.
And that's where the situation becomes tricky for Cubs fans. As well as Chicago is playing, it's already easy to look ahead to the postseason and wonder if the Cubs can finally win the World Series for the first time since 1908, or at least make it there for the first time since 1945. But the nature of playoff baseball means a championship-or-bust mentality will usually lead to disappointment, even for the best teams.
Since the first expanded postseason with wild cards in 1995, only four times has the team with baseball's best record (or one of the teams that tied for the best record) won the World Series.
The Cubs might be better than many of the teams that have finished with the best record. Right now they're on pace to win 115 games. But even if we just look at the teams that have reached 100 wins recently, the outlook isn't great. There have been 22 teams since `95 that have won at least 100 games. Only two - the Yankees in 2009 and 1998 - won the World Series. Only four more managed to win pennants. Half of those 22 teams lost in the Division Series.
If we change the cutoff to 105 wins, then the sample drops to only four teams. The `98 Yankees won the World Series, while the 2004 Cardinals won the pennant but lost in the World Series. The 2001 Mariners (with 116 wins) and 1998 Braves lost in the League Championship Series.
The idea that anything can happen in a short series can be daunting for top teams. Right now, Fangraphs.com projects the Cubs to finish with 102 wins but gives them only a 19 percent chance to win the World Series and a 32 percent shot to win the pennant. Those are better chances than anyone else, but once the playoffs start, there's usually no such thing as a heavy favorite.
Here are a few more developments from around baseball:
BACK ON TOP
The Kansas City Royals have had to deal with injuries to Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez, but they're in first place in the AL Central by a half-game after a three-game winning streak. Kansas City won those three games against the Chicago White Sox, who have dropped six straight, and all after trailing by two or more runs entering the seventh inning.
Josh Tomlin of Cleveland already has as many victories (seven) as he did through all of last season. The right-hander has walked only six batters in 51 innings - and 14 in 116 2/3 innings going back through last year. That kind of control has led to some pretty appealing WHIP numbers, but Tomlin has also been somewhat fortunate with run support - as well as the fact that opponents are hitting only .235 against him this year on balls in play.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Josh Donaldson of Toronto hit two home runs and had five RBIs while going 4 for 5 on Friday, and that offensive outburst was particularly impactful since the Blue Jays only won the game 7-5 over Boston. Toronto went on to take two of three from the AL East-leading Red Sox.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister