Can Chicago Cubs still make the playoffs?

The Chicago Cubs entered the 2023 MLB season with high hopes of making a return to the playoffs after missing out the past two seasons. The Cubs underwent an aggressive rebuild in recent years, stockpiling young talent and making some key free agent signings with the goal of contending once again.

However, as the calendar flips to September, the Cubs find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff race. With about a month left in the regular season, Chicago sits 8 games behind the final National League Wild Card spot.Still, the Cubs have not been mathematically eliminated yet. But with each passing day, their chances grow slimmer.

So can the Chicago Cubs still realistically make the playoffs in 2023? Let’s take a closer look at where things stand for the team.

Current Playoff Picture in National League

In the National League, there are three teams ahead of the Cubs vying for the final two Wild Card spots:

Team Record Games Behind 1st WC
Philadelphia Phillies 75-61
San Diego Padres 74-62 1.0
Milwaukee Brewers 69-66 5.5

The Phillies and Padres are in a tight battle for the top Wild Card position, while the Brewers sit 5.5 games back of Philly for the final spot.

The Cubs, meanwhile, have a record of 63-74, placing them a distant 8 games behind Milwaukee. It’s not an insurmountable deficit, but Chicago has quite a hill to climb with around 30 games left.

Remaining Schedule

Beyond just the standings, the Cubs’ remaining schedule makes their path to October even more challenging.

Of their final 27 games, 17 come against teams that are currently in playoff position or are within 5 games of a Wild Card spot. Here is how the closing slate shakes out:

Opponent Games Remaining
vs. Giants (61-68) 3
@ Phillies (75-61) 3
vs. Rockies (58-75) 4
@ Brewers (69-66) 3
vs. Pirates (51-80) 3
@ Padres (74-62) 4
@ Reds (53-75) 3
vs. Cardinals (79-55) 4

Series against Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and San Diego will be critical, as Chicago will have a chance to directly close the gap in the standings. But they also face a tough draw with 7 games against the Giants and Cardinals, who may be playing potential spoiler roles in September.

Given how inconsistent the Cubs offense has been this season, stringing together enough wins against this schedule will be a major challenge.

Injuries and Roster Issues

Health has been another thorn in the Cubs’ side this season. Injuries have decimated both their pitching staff and lineup for portions of the year.

Their top two starters, Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman, have each spent time on the injured list and struggled to regain their past form. Hendricks is now done for the year after shoulder issues. Meanwhile shortstop Willson Contreras, outfielders Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ, and second baseman Nick Madrigal have all missed extended stretches as well.

With a month to go, getting some key bats like Suzuki fully healthy and productive could help spark a run. But cycles of injuries have prevented this Cubs roster from ever clicking on all cylinders together for an extended period.

In addition, the relief pitching has been very shaky with a 4.97 bullpen ERA that ranks 25th in MLB. New acquisitions like David Robertson were meant to shore up the bullpen but Chicago’s late innings options remain an issue.

Scoring Enough Runs

Inconsistencies on offense have plagued the Cubs all season. Despite having a talented collection of hitters, they rank 21st in MLB with 4.3 runs scored per game.

With the exceptions of Ian Happ and Willson Contreras, most of the Chicago lineup has failed to play up to expectations:

Key Hitters Batting Average On-Base %
Ian Happ – CF .275 .358
Willson Contreras – C .246 .349
Seiya Suzuki – RF .263 .336
Nico Hoerner – SS .282 .329
Patrick Wisdom – 3B .213 .311

Suzuki has failed to replicate his hot start after returning from injury, while Wisdom and Hoerner have contributed far less than expected in the middle of the order.

With this offense scuffling so frequently, it will be hard for Chicago to rip off enough wins against contending teams down the stretch. The pitching simply isn’t strong enough to carry the team if the bats stay cold.

Verdict: Playoff Hopes Are Bleak

Given all of these factors – the standings deficit, a tough schedule, roster issues, and offensive inconsistency – the odds are firmly stacked against the Chicago Cubs making a playoff push over the last month of 2022.

It would likely require a historic run of something like 21-6 over their final 27 games just to force a tie with the current final Wild Card team. And that may still not be enough if either the Brewers or another NL team gets hot in September.

Crazy hot streaks do sometimes happen in baseball. But based on their full body of work this season, nothing we’ve seen from these Cubs suggests they are capable of that kind of sustained excellence against the level of competition they’ll face.

The postseason likely remains another year away for Chicago. Their internal development and offseason acquisitions point towards 2023 or 2024 as the years when this rebuild may fully come together.

That said, this young core will certainly benefit from learning how to play competitive, meaningful games down the stretch. Taking steps forward against contending teams sets the stage for future seasons.

While hopes of October baseball have just about vanished, Cubs fans still have reasons for optimism when looking at the big picture. Even if 2022 ends in disappointment, Chicago is assembling an intriguing roster that could soon make them a force once again in the National League.

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