14 things to know about the Chicago Cubs' hot and historic start to the season

The Cubs enter play on Sunday with a remarkable 27-9 record after their first 36 games. As a consequence, they have a remarkable eight-game lead in the NL Central over the Pirates, and keep in mind that this is a division that yielded three playoff teams in 2015. As well, the SportsLine Projection Model gives the Cubs a whopping 99.7 percent chance of making the playoffs.

In celebration of this incredible performance thus far, let's run down a few facts, nuggets, and bits of historical context regarding the 2016 Cubs to date ...

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The Cubs are on a roll to start the season USATSI
  1. Just three teams won more games than the 2016 Cubs over their first 35. Those three teams are the 1984 Tigers (30), the 1939 Yankees (28), and the 1928 Yankees (28). Each of those three teams went on to win the World Series. Each Yankees model swept the Fall Classic, while the Tigers prevailed over the Padres in five games.
  2. In all, 10 teams since 1913 (the back end of searchable data) have won at least 27 games out of their first 35. We know about the this year's Cubs and the three teams named above. Also winning exactly 27 were the 1921 Pirates, 1923 Giants, 1931 Athletics, 1946 Red Sox, 1955 Dodgers, and 1977 Dodgers.
  3. Of those nine other teams going at least 27-8, four won the World Series, four lost the World Series, and one -- the '21 Pirates -- missed the postseason altogether.
  4. Here's how these nine fellow travelers fared after their first 35 games (not counting postseason play) ...
    1921 Pirates: 63-55 (.529)
    1923 Giants: 68-50 (.576)
    1928 Yankees: 73-46 (.613)
    1931 Athletics: 80-37 (.678)
    1939 Yankees: 78-38 (.667)
    1946 Red Sox: 77-42 (.636)
    1955 Dodgers: 71-47 (.597)
    1977 Dodgers: 71-56 (.559)
    1984 Tigers: 74-53 (.583)
  5. In the aggregate, those teams won at a .607 clip. If the Cubs do that the rest of the way, then they'll wind up with a 104-58 record. It so happens that the SportsLine Projection Model mentioned above presently tabs the Cubs for 105 wins in 2016.
  6. Thanks to that historically hot start, the Cubs can post a losing record the rest of the way and still win 90 games. Indeed, they can go 63-64 over the rest of 2016 and wind up at 90-72. Given the apparent compression elsewhere in baseball, that will probably be good enough for a postseason berth.
  7. To get to 100 wins for the first time since 1935, the Cubs will need to win at "just" a .575 clip -- room for substantial regression, in other words.
  8. How about the franchise record for wins? The 1906 Cubs hold that mark with 116 victories. To get there, the Cubs would need to play .701 ball, which would exceed any of the post-35 game winning percentages of those other teams noted above. Not likely! The '06 Cubs of course share the all-time record for wins in a season with the 2001 Mariners. The '06 Cubs, though, racked up those 116 wins in just 152 games.
  9. Related to all of this is the Cubs' incredible run differential of +110. Scaled to a full season their run differential would be +509. The all-time record belongs to those '39 Yankees, who outscored their opponents by 411 runs. Obviously, the Cubs have some room to decline/regress and still break that record. This one bears monitoring.
  10. What's helping that run differential is how the Cubs have fared in blowout games. This season, when the game is decided by a margin of five runs or more the Cubs are 15-2.
  11. Are the Cubs getting lucky? No, not especially. Based on runs scored and runs allowed, their record should be 28-7. Based on the more granular, batted-ball level data available at FanGraphs, their record should be 27-8. In other words, the Cubs aren't out-performing any of their more fundamental indicators.
  12. For a time, the knock was the the Cubs hadn't played a tough schedule. However, their 2016 opponents to date have an average winning percentage of .502. They've also gone 13-1 against the Cardinals, Pirates, and Nationals, and they're 13-3 in road games.
  13. Need proof that baseball's still beautifully weird? The Cubs this season are 3-5 against the Braves, Rockies, and Padres and 24-3 against everyone else.
  14. Of course, the Cubs' 2016 regular season excellence is all in the service of winning the World Series for the first time since 1908. On that point, there's some discouraging news. Since 1995, when the playoffs expanded to three rounds, the team with the best record in the regular season has gone on to win the World Series just 19 percent of the time. In the playoffs, the small sample size of games and the randomness therein tend to hold sway. Just ask those 1906 Cubs and 2001 Mariners and their 116 wins apiece, for instance.

The 2016 Cubs -- so far, so very, very good. Of course, there's much more to come.

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