Even by theirfamously futile standards, the last few seasons have been cruel to the Cubs,whose historical, geographical and metaphysical rivals have won title aftertitle: the Cardinals (2006), White Sox ('05) and Red Sox ('04). But if managerLou Piniella can leverage Chicago's hot streak before the All-Star break--a12-4 run to close within 4 1‚ÅÑ2 games of the Brewers--into a playoff appearance,the Cubs might finally have this to cheer about (deep breath here): their firstWorld Series appearance in 62 years.
That's suggested byBaseball Prospectus's Secret Sauce, which is based on three ingredients thatstrongly correlate with postseason success: a team's strikeout rate, orEquivalent K/9 (EqK9), adjusted for a team's league and ballpark; its qualityof defense, or Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), an estimate of the runs adefense has saved or cost its pitchers relative to the league average; and itsstrength of closer, or Win Expectation Above Replacement (WXRL), which measuresthe wins the closer has saved versus what a replacement-level alternative wouldhave 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 theplayoffs. The formula pointed to the surprising matchup between the White Soxand the Astros in the 2005 World Series (not to mention Chicago's title), inaddition to the unlikely championships of the 1990 Reds and the 2002Angels.
With a staff ofpower arms and Jonathan Papelbon anchoring the bullpen, the Red Sox, at theAll-Star break, had the best Secret Sauce rating, which is compiled by addingthe EqK9, FRAA and WXRL rankings. The Cubs, however, weren't far behind (chartbelow). They led the majors in EqK9 behind Rich Hill (third in the NL), TedLilly (seventh) and Carlos Zambrano (eighth). Their defense, which hasbenefited from Alfonso Soriano's move to left from center, and Rob Bowen andKoyie Hill replacing Michael Barrett at catcher, is also among the best. Andwhile closer Ryan Dempster can conjure up memories of Mitch Williams with hiscontrol 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 upto--billy goats, Bartmen and erstwhile Bambino curses be damned--a potentiallysaucy Fall Series featuring the Cubs and the Red Sox, both of them built onpower arms and defense, no less.