This is the first installment of Redleg Nation’s in-depth look at the rest of the NL Central before opening day. For the introduction to the series, and to see the Cubs projected opening day roster, click here.

Unless you’re just waking up from a long winter’s nap, you’ve probably heard about how the Cubs have turned things upside down. They’re the new look Cubs, they’re back, and they’re here to contend. Now, some of that is just hype. The national sports media desperately clings to a narrative where a big market club, especially one in the middle of a historical losing streak, turns it around and becomes the nation’s darlings. As a Reds fan, I’m actually hoping that it’s all hype and that the Cubs have another solid century of losing in front of them. But with all this smoke, it’s worth checking into the fire.

If you like the numbers, then the Cubs do raise an eyebrow. Fangraphs does a thing where they take the projected stats of every player on a team and run a few thousand simulations a day to see what the odds are that each team will make the playoffs. They do this every day over the season, updating their projections with the current season’s stats. Before the season, their projected playoff odds are just based on pre-season stat projections. Recently, they took a look at how each team had improved or otherwise since the pre-season projection they did last year, and lo and behold, the Cubs have improved the most.

That’s right, as far as the fake numbers that don’t mean anything are concerned, the Cubs have made the biggest improvement from March 2014 to now, if the goal is post-season play. As of today, Fangraphs has the Cubs finishing with 83 wins, 3rd place in the Central, with a 42.4% percent chance of seeing game 163. That’s a 35.4% improvement from their sad state last year. So why does NASA like the Cubs so much?

The reason that’s gotten the most press is that the Cubs have several months worth of Seventeen Magazine coverboys on their 40-man roster. The Cubs are loaded with top position player prospects, all of whom could make major contributions to a high-powered offense this year, or, because they’re the Cubs, probably not. They also made a move for the most stylishly iconoclastic manager in baseball, Joe Maddon, formerly of the Rays, and made a bevy of well-regarded free agent signings and trades.

The comings and goings all made for a dizzying offseason on the North side, and a team of mostly strangers that looks good on paper. Over the next few posts, we’ll dig into each of the major factors that has Connecticut claiming it’s a new day in Chicago. Use this thread to talk about the Cubs offseason and your predictions for their 2015 campaign, if you must. I’d much rather read a hundred funny comments about how bad the Cubs have been, are, and always will be. Remember when the Cubs had Kevin Gregg as their closer! It’s funny because it’s true.

Oh, wait….