There is no doubt the Cubs got better this offseason, signing a whole bunch of free agents to raise expectations that were way low a year ago. However, their projected wins from ZiPS also points to the Cubs not being overly aggressive at the top of the free agent market. The acquisitions have been solid to good, but as optimistic as you may want to be, the front office aimed at least one tier below the star players available on the free agent market.
This isn’t a knock against the front office’s method, which focused on improving the team’s defense while adding dependable pitchers for the starting rotation. However, despite the big deal for Dansby Swanson, and healthy deal for Jameson Taillon, the Cubs didn’t sign an impact hitter or true top of the rotation starter.
So, I wasn’t surprised when ZiPS released its projected standings for the National League with the Cubs finishing the season at 78-84.
Along with the ZiPS projected standings, the Cubs have an estimated 8.1% chance to win the National League Central division, 9.7% chance to claim one of the three Wild Card spots, bringing their playoff chances for 2023 at 17.8%.
According to these projections, the Cubs are set as the third-best team in the NL Central, with the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers projected to win 91 and 83 games, respectively. And to one’s surprise the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates are at the bottom, projected at 70 and 68 wins.
Compared to the rest of the National League, the 78 projected wins for the Cubs ranks behind nine other teams. Out of those nine teams, there is really only one I’m a little surprised about and that’s the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are projected to end the season at 81-81.
I’ve talked before about my expectations for the Cubs in 2023 and one of my predictions for the team is that they finish the year with 85 wins. I wouldn’t bet on this team to make the playoffs for the simple fact that the top of the league is stacked. Even with three Wild Card spots up for grabs, the NL does have several teams in the second tier that can end up being better than expected.
Here are my completely made up rankings of the National League.
Should Make the Playoffs
Should Be in Wild Card Race
Fringe Wild Card Race
So, with this is mind the Cubs have to jump one of the Phillies, Giants or Brewers and hope the Diamondbacks and Marlins don’t over perform to get in the mix for that last Wild Card spot. Is it impossible? No, but as many fans have been saying, there are going to need to be a few guys raising their game in 2023 to give the Cubs a realistic chance to become a playoff team.
You’d like to think that Justin Steele can take the next step and that simply begins with him pitching more innings, or maybe it’s rookie Hayden Wesneski making an impact in the starting rotation. On offense, Seiya Suzuki could end up being the impact bat the Cubs are missing and maybe Dansby Swanson does end up maintaining his last three-year stretch at the plate rather than his overall track record.
As always, projections are just that…projections. So many things can happen throughout the season with injuries or players taking a step back or forward because of whatever variable. You can read more about ZiPS and how these are calculated over at Fangraphs here.