We can all agree that the Chicago Cubs are pretty good, yes? There's really no argument against it. They have one of baseball's best records. They have baseball's strongest run differential. And it's not like it came out of nowhere; they were good last year, then they improved. It's hard to imagine any team having a better chance of winning the World Series. I want to make this point clear: The Cubs are terrific.
All right then.
But let's take a closer look. The Cubs have been good because they've performed well. Couldn't be simpler, right? There's another, more hidden contributor, though. Have you happened to look at the Cubs' schedule so far?
I must admit, I didn't expect this post to focus on the Cubs. That wasn't my intent going in, but a trend emerged that is worth our attention. Schedule strength doesn't get talked about in baseball the way it gets talked about in football. The samples are bigger, and the opponents tend to be more uniform. Yet baseball schedules definitely are not balanced, and it's possible to look at who has benefited and who has been hurt by it. And the Cubs, so far, have had it relatively easy, while the AL West-leading Texas Rangers have not.
So I set out to examine individual players, looking for the hitters and pitchers who have faced the easiest and toughest individual opponents. Which hitters have faced aces with regularity, and which hitters have faced call-ups? Which pitchers have faced sluggers, and which pitchers have faced a ton of backups? The results of my findings are fascinating enough, but you'll quickly see why the Cubs became the focus.