As the Chicago Cubs seek yet another postseason appearance, they’ll go through the gauntlet over the next few weeks with a brutal stretch of schedule.
This has loomed in the Chicago Cubs schedule since the start of the season. Like the beginning of a tsunami, throughout the spring and early summer, it was a distant aberration on the horizon. Now it’s here and looming larger than ever.
A stretch of 23 straight games without a break, and 29 games with just one day off. The Cubs rotation is a mess and the offense is still too inconsistent, meaning this stretch of 29 games in 30 days that begins on Aug. 21 and ends on Sept. 19 will make or break their 2018 season.
The stretch begins innocuously enough on Aug. 21 with a two-game series with the sub-.500 Detroit Tigers. Then, two four-game series with the pesky Cincinnati Reds and the struggling New York Mets at home. Ok, not so tough, maybe.
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But then the tsunami arrives in force. On Aug. 30, the Cubs hit the road for a makeup game with the Atlanta Braves, a three-game series with the Phillies and a four-game series with the Washington Nationals. And lastly the kicker – a return trip home without a day off to face the Milwaukee Brewers in Wrigley, ending on Sept. 12.
Then, finally a day off before another three-game series with the Reds. The club then heads off to Arizona for three games with the Diamondbacks, concluding the 29 game stretch.
Cubs need to get right quickly
The Cubs will have an off-day on Aug. 20 to assess where they stand. Right now, it isn’t pretty. The rotation is in pieces on the floor. Jon Lester has lost his mojo and has had one quality start since the All-Star Break. His ERA has ballooned from 2.25 on July 1 to 3.89 on August 16. He’s pitched to a 9.32 ERA in his second-half starts. Meanwhile, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks are struggling to stay afloat, and the new Cubs ace is recently acquired 34-year-old Cole Hamels. Yu Darvish’s return seems to be at least a few weeks off.
Offensively, the Cubs are little better off heading into this avalanche of games. The lineup is shortened by the loss of Kris Bryant and while David Bote has impressed, he’s a rookie with fewer than 100 plate appearances in 35 MLB games. His BABIP is .400 so at some point, he could be headed for a major regression.
Anthony Rizzo is hot and cold, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell are struggling, and Albert Almora is in a wicked slump. Baez, Contreras, Heyward and Zobrist have carried the team for weeks. Three of the four (Baez, Contreras and Zobrist) have BABIPs well over .300 so it’s just a question of how long they can keep going at that pace.
Finally, the Brewers have hung around and are three games behind the Cubs, and now the Cardinals are making a run, winners of eight straight. As Satchel Paige once said, “Don’t look back; something might be gaining on you.”
The Cubs don’t need to look back. There are plenty of games to play. But they either become the second half team they have been for the past three years right now or they’ll be looking up at the Brewers and Cardinals.