This one needs a bit of a disclaimer. The Cubs have the third highest payroll in the league, at nearly 147 million dollars. There is no way that a team should be able to turn 147 million dollars into anything other than at least a semi-competitive team. The Red Sox and their 163 million dollar payroll can be excused, as they play in the toughest division in baseball and have been decimated by injuries this season. The Cubs really don't have an excuse, except that they've agreed to pay exorbitant amounts of money to players that don't have a chance to provide the team any sort of surplus value (Mr. Soriano, I'm looking at you). This should tell you all you need to know. So while I'll present a reason for optimism for North Siders, I doubt they can win with Jim Hendry in the driver's seat.
But climb down off that ledge, Cubs fans. Your boys have been bad, but they haven't been 54-74 bad. Cubs pitching has allowed 632 runs, 6th worst in the league. However, looking at their underlying factors, Cubs pitchers with more than 50 innings pitched (excluding Ted Lilly, who is now a Dodger), have an average ERA-FIP of 0.35. This means that for the most critical parts of the Cubs' pitching staff, including the rotation and their best bullpen pitchers, their ERAs should be roughly a third of a run lower. Even better, dropping the inning requirement to 20 to include most of the Cubs' other bullpen arms brings the average ERA-xFIP up to 0.48, meaning that in a luck-neutral environment the Cubs would be allowing roughly one-half less run per game. Over their season so far, this half run of bad luck has been worth roughly 69 total runs allowed. Neutralizing the bad luck of Cubs pitching drops them down to roughly 563 runs, or a somewhat more respectable 19th in the league between the Blue Jays and Red Sox.
Of course, luck in baseball can be a tricky thing. The Cubs could be equally unlucky next year, or they could allow fewer runs than their statistics would suggest they should. However, look for Cubs pitching to regress to a luck-neutral mean, which would be a huge improvement. Also, a reduced role for aging Aramis Ramirez could help. He hasn't been his normal mashing self this year, and after a career of having a roughly average glove at the hot corner, UZR now has Ramirez at -15.0 runs per 150 games. This is by far the worst mark of any 3rd baseman in the league, with Miguel Tejada coming in second-worst at -9.7/150 (kudos to Padres brass for recognizing this and playing Miggy at short for all but 3 games since he's come over, where he's been a much better defender).
So wait til next year, Cubs fans, and prepare for some much better results from your hurlers as you do. Check back tomorrow, when we'll look at the Nationals and try to ease their pain on a day that reports have come out that their prize arm may need Tommy John surgery.