At 40-16, the Chicago Cubs are the best team in baseball by 5 1/2 games. They’re off to the best start since the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who own the all-time record for wins in a season with 116. The Cubs would have to go a remarkable 77-29 from here on out to break that record, but with the way this team manages to win ballgames, that might not be out of the question. Let’s take a closer look at these two teams:
We’ll start with where these two teams stand at the 56-game juncture. The Mariners were 44-12 after 56 games, four games better than the current Cubs. In fact, on June 7, 2001, 15 years ago, the M’s were in the midst of what would become a 15-game winning streak. By the time it ended, Seattle was a ridiculous 47-12. The Cubbies haven’t enjoyed a winning streak of that length so far this season, but they have had some spurts of invincibility, with an eight-game win streak in the books. They’re also currently on a tear, having won 11 of their last 13.
Seattle went into the All-Star break in 2001 with a 63-24 record. Eight Mariners made the American League All-Star roster that year. It’s expected that the Cubs are due to send close to that many to this year’s Midsummer Classic in San Diego, which is not surprising.
The Mariners earned the majority of their wins from their hitting arsenal. The first four of the ’01 Mariners starting nine ended the season with batting averages over .300. There were no major sluggers on that team, but four players hit at least 20 home runs (Bret Boone led the way with 37). To put it bluntly, this team was able to score enough runs to give its rotation a break when they weren’t performing up to code. This ball club, for the most part, was not young. Edgar Martinez was 38, John Olerud was 33, and even rookie Ichiro Suzuki was already 27 years old. 39-year-old Jamie Moyer was arguably the ace of this club.
The Cubs are a different monster. Going into Tuesday night’s games, the Cubs’ starting rotation is carrying an ERA of 2.33. Since 1920, the record for the lowest rotation ERA for a team in a season was set by the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals, who finished the ’68 campaign with a 2.40 ERA. Jake Arrieta (9-1) suffered his first loss of the season on Sunday, and Jason Hammel and Jon Lester provide a generous cushion when Arrieta isn’t on the hill. To provide perspective, Kyle Hendricks is the worst pitcher in the rotation, and he’s 4-4 with an ERA of 2.84. Like the ’01 Mariners lineup, this Cubs rotation has some years under its belt. Arrieta, Hammel, Lester, and Lackey are all in their thirties.
Let’s take a look at the divisions these two clubs had/have to contend with. The Mariners played in the AL West, which consisted of only four teams in 2001. The second-place Oakland won 102 games that season, and the Anaheim Angels finished third with a 75-87 mark. The Texas Rangers finished in the cellar with a 73-89 record. That’s pretty decent for a last place team, but the Rangers finished 43 games out of first place (!).
The Cubs division proves to be weaker, which could provide an easier path to the record. The second-place Pirates sit 10 games back of the Cubbies, and we’re only in early June. The Cubs will likely roll over the Brewers and Reds from here on out, and the Cardinals are not themselves so far in 2016.
Taking these statistics into consideration, it’s likely that a hypothetical matchup between these two teams would be legendary, though it can’t actually be done.
Despite their unbelievable success, the 2001 Mariners are best remembered for a most unfortunate statistic: they couldn’t bring home a World Series title. That’s right, the M’s fell in the ALCS to the New York Yankees, who were undoubtedly fueled by the tragic events of September 11. The Yanks advanced to their fourth Series in a row, while the Mariners have not been back to the playoffs since. If the Cubs actually break the 116-win plateau, they can’t be considered the greatest of all time unless they bring a World Series title to the North Side of Chicago, and end the most infamous championship drought in sports.