The road ahead is most likely a brief climb, then a steep downhill plunge. Having clinched the National League Central, the Chicago Cubs will now continue motoring toward a 100-victory season and the best record in the major leagues. Then, in all probability, they will meet their inevitable doom once again.
That is not a sentence any Cubs fan, like myself, wishes to write, and it has absolutely nothing to do with black cats, billy goats or Steve Bartman. Alas, I fear that the Cubs will have very little chance of winning the World Series next month simply because of cold, hard statistical baseball trends — and a little bit of bad history.
Early Friday, on fan websites and in the streets of Wrigleyville, there was a great deal of celebration now that the Cubs were officially the N.L. Central champions. There was also some understandable, if misplaced, optimism. After all, the Cubs are clearly the best team in baseball, on the field and on paper. They’re stacked, and stoked.
They feature a 2015 Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta), this year’s leading Cy Young candidate (Kyle Hendricks), two most valuable player candidates (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo), the fastest-throwing closer in the world (Aroldis Chapman), a remarkably flexible lineup and a lovable manager, Joe Maddon, whose eccentric, throwback hunches turn out just fine.
And their digitally oriented president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, is well versed in the fine art of snapping historic losing streaks, having accomplished the impossible with the Boston Red Sox in 2004.
But then there is statistical reality: Since 1995, when Major League Baseball’s playoff system first consisted of a minimum of eight teams, only four clubs with the best regular-season record went on to win the World Series. On five occasions in that 21-season span, teams shared the best record, so there were actually 26 clubs with the “best record.” Four for 26 is a .154 batting average, which cannot be very heartening for a Cubs fan.
Winning 100 or more games is an even poorer indicator of World Series success. Since 1995, 21 teams have won 100 or more games in the regular season. Of those, only the 1998 Yankees and the 2009 Yankees went on to win it all. We all remember what happened to the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won a remarkable 116 games during the regular season and then were rudely routed by the Yankees, four games to one, in the American League Championship Series.
There is also the worrisome issue of how the Cubs have recently performed in the postseason. Since 2007, they have been swept in three of their four playoff series and have an overall record of 4-11, including a wild-card game win.
And there is the matter of potential postseason opponents, which is also not particularly encouraging. The Cubs’ first playoff series will almost certainly be against the winner of the National League wild-card game. That could mean the Mets, who destroyed the Cubs last October, or the San Francisco Giants, who win it all whenever the year is an even number. Guess what year this is? The St. Louis Cardinals would be an easier, but less likely, opponent.
If the Cubs advance, then comes the N.L. Championship Series, possibly against the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the hottest and most talented teams in the league, and now featuring Clayton Kershaw and his resurgent arm. Finally, in a possible World Series, any American League champion will own home-field advantage because of the All-Star Game result.
All this bad stuff does not necessarily mean Cubs fans should abandon their dreams. For what it is worth, last week the data-driven FiveThirtyEight website gave the Cubs a fairly generous 23 percent chance of winning the World Series, although that is a lot lower than it set Donald J. Trump’s odds of winning the presidency. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook places the Cubs’ championship odds at 5 to 2, making them the favorite.
There was also Maddon’s assertion to reporters, just before the Cubs clinched the division, that his team had “much larger baseball fish to fry in our skillet.”
But ultimately, we are talking about the Cubs, so their fans should take necessary precautions while preparing for the worst.
In New York, they might want to head to Kelly’s Sports Bar in the East Village, which bills itself as the lone home in the city for fans of the Chicago Cubs and the Buffalo Bills, who once lost four straight Super Bowls and have not made the N.F.L. playoffs in the 21st century. Kelly’s is a place where losers go on a regular basis.
“There’s something about the long-term suffering that makes them prouder about the character-building,” said Al Landess, manager at the tavern. “Being able to endure such agony, the payoff is bigger.”
Landess fully grasps the October landscape facing both the Cubs crowd and his place of employment.
“It will either be ‘Here we go again,’ or utter bliss,” he said. “At least get ’em into the N.L.C.S., for the sake of the bar. We welcome criers.”
Correction: September 19, 2016
An earlier version of this article misidentified the position that Theo Epstein holds with the Chicago Cubs. He is president for baseball operations — not general manager, which is the post held by Jed Hoyer.