How good are the Chicago Cubs? Even though they've lost four of their past seven games -- including a 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday when Chase Anderson no-hit them for seven innings -- they're still 28-10 and on pace to win 119 games. That would be a record. The 2001 Seattle Mariners went 116-46 and the 1906 Cubs -- in a much different era -- went 116-36.
Is it too early to be talking about the Cubs as an all-time great team? Before we get to that, here are the teams to win 105 or more games in the 162-game era (since 1961) and their records through 38 games:
1. 2001 Mariners (116-46): 29-9
2. 1998 Yankees (114-48): 29-9
3. 1961 Yankees (109-53): 21-17
3. 1969 Orioles (109-53): 26-12
5. 1970 Orioles (108-54): 26-12
5. 1975 Reds (108-54): 19-19
5. 1986 Mets (108-54): 27-11
8. 1998 Braves (106-56): 27-11
9. 2004 Cardinals (105-57): 20-18
(I should also point out the 1995 Indians, who went 100-44 in a shortened season. Their .694 winning percentage would rank third on the above list.)
Anyway, the striking result from these teams is the 1975 Big Red Machine was actually at .500 at this point in the season and below .500 at 18-19 through Game 37. It was around this time of the season that Sparky Anderson moved Pete Rose from left field to third base (where the Reds were getting no production) and inserted George Foster into left. They went 43-10 from Game 38 to Game 90.
That said, this type of stretch at any point in the season isn't actually all that unusual. With research help from Michael Bonzagni of ESPN Stats & Information, here are all the teams that went 27-10 (the Cubs' record after 37 games) or better at some period in the past five seasons, with their run differential:
2015 Blue Jays: 29-8 (+102)
2015 Cubs: 27-10 (+45)
2014 Angels: 28-9 (+77)
2014 Giants: 27-10 (+59)
2013 Dodgers: 31-6 (+88)
2013 Rays: 28-9 (+65)
2013 Braves: 28-9 (+62)
2013 Nationals: 27-10 (+65)
2013 Cardinals: 27-10 (+64)
2012 Reds: 28-9 (+46)
2012 Braves: 27-10 (+72)
2012 Brewers: 27-10 (+63)
2012 Angels: 27-10 (+59)
2012 Yankees: 27-10 (+52)
2012 A's: 27-10 (+64)
2011 Brewers: 29-8 (+75)
2011 Tigers: 28-9 (+76)
2011 Red Sox: 28-9 (+93)
2011 Phillies: 28-9 (+90)
That's 19 teams. These are good teams. Fifteen of them made the playoffs, so that's good news for Cubs fans -- the exceptions were the 2013 Nationals, the 2012 Brewers and Angels, and the 2011 Red Sox. The 19 teams above averaged 93 wins, although only the 2011 Phillies won 100 games. (The only other team to win 100 games in the past five years was last year's Cardinals, whose best 37-game stretch was 26-11.)
The most impressive part of this run for the Cubs, however, is their plus-108 run differential. Still, it was only a season ago that the Blue Jays went 29-8 from July 29 through Sept. 8 with a plus-102 run differential. They averaged 6.1 runs per game over that stretch. Josh Donaldson hit .357 with 13 home runs and 47 RBIs (winning the MVP in the process); Edwin Encarnacion hit .354 with 11 home runs; Jose Bautista hit 12 home runs; Chris Colabello hit .397. On the pitching front, David Price came over from the Tigers and went 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA and R.A. Dickey went 6-0 with a 2.87 ERA. Relievers Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil, LaTroy Hawkins and Aaron Sanchez gave up eight runs in 56 innings (1.29 ERA).
The Cubs have also been scoring a lot of runs -- 5.68 per game, highest in the NL. Of course, they're also giving up the fewest runs per game. They're tied with the Diamondbacks for the major league lead in defensive runs saved (plus-21) and rank first in FanGraphs baserunning runs. That's a similar formula as those 2001 Mariners, who led the AL in runs and runs allowed (with a plus-300 run differential), were one of the best defensive teams ever assembled with Mike Cameron and Ichiro Suzuki leading the way in the outfield, and easily led the majors in baserunning runs.
Certainly, any chance at having a historic regular season will depend on health. Those Mariners received 155 starts from six pitchers and basically used only 13 pitchers all season. The 1998 Yankees had 156 starts from their top six guys. But even if a starter goes down, the Cubs have Adam Warren or Travis Wood ready in the bullpen as capable back-end starters. So they could win 105-plus games, anyway.
I'd like their chances to win 105 games if I were seeing better production out of Jason Heyward (one home run) or Jorge Soler (.546 OPS). But they have depth and can slide Kris Bryant to left field and play Javier Baez or Tommy La Stella at third base. And you don't need a perfect team to win 116 games. The Mariners never had a regular left fielder (Jay Buhner missed almost the entire season) and even received below-average production at a couple of positions.
Of course, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel aren't all going to have sub-2.00 ERAs all season. At some point, Joe Maddon will have to rely more on the bullpen than he has had to so far. The Cubs also have the depth in the minors to swing a trade if so desired -- how about Ryan Braun for left field or Andrew Miller for the bullpen?
I'd love to see 116, though, even if that means knocking those Mariners from their perch.