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mccutchen wainwrightWhen you’re a bad team in a good division, the unbalanced schedule in MLB will probably not favor you. And when your division sports three playoff teams from the previous year, and projections are based on records from that previous year, the schedule is going to look all the more grim.

It’s with that perspective that I’m completely unsurprised to see that the Cubs face the toughest early-season schedule in the National League, according to Buster Olney. It would have taken quite a mathematical and scheduling feat for that not to be true.

Even still, it’s a hell of a first couple months. Of the Cubs’ first 40 games, 31 come against teams that were .500 or better last year. And 21 of those 31 are against the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds, alone. Yes, suffice it to say, it would be a banner year for the Cubs to come out of the gate hot.

The cold, hard truth is that the Chicago Cubs’ 2014 roster, understandable though it might be, is not constructed to be a playoff contender. There are great individual stories to follow, and certainly don’t tell the players that they don’t have a chance. But if the Cubs are going to be that 1 in 40 team that looks like this on paper and yet still makes the playoffs, it’s going to take winning early and often. In that regard, maybe it’s a good thing that so many of the early-season games come against good teams, and especially the three top dogs in the NL Central.

Imagine that the Cubs faced a weak early-season schedule, and didn’t play many against the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds until the second half. Maybe then the Cubs surprise early, keep the team together at the Trade Deadline, despite valuable overtures lobbed in their direction, and then fall on their face in the second half when they actually play the very teams they’ve got to beat. Is that better than losing early to those same teams, knowing what you really are and what you really aren’t, and then better positioning yourself for the future at the deadline?

*(We’re not talking about competitive baseball in August and September, mind you. In this scenario, the Cubs would merely look like a maybe-possibly team in mid-July, but then quickly and clearly out of it by mid-August.)

Maybe that strikes some as an ugly question. And, if pressed, I’m not certain I might not just say, “eff the future, give me some meaningful games in June.” But if I can step back, I’ll probably concede that it’s better to know whether the Cubs are truly a .500 or better team in the first half, or whether they beat up on a bunch of cream-puffs and lucked into a .500 record on July 15.

Then again, even if the Cubs are only better than the cream-puffs, maybe that’ll be a good enough sign not to sell off midseason anyway. It’s all academic, though, since that early season slate doesn’t look like it will be easy. If the Cubs are at .500 come June 1, I’d call that an enormously pleasant surprise. A big enough surprise, in fact, that it would probably change the shape of the rest of the season.

  • Edwin

    Reading too quickly, I almost thought the Cubs played 21 of 31 games against the Cardinals. That would just be unfair.

  • JacqueJones

    I vote if the cubs are at .500 at the trade deadline, 48 more hours get added to the blogathon!

  • Jon

    I’m trying to find a polite way to say this is a “loser mentality” but I can’t. At face value, this is a real “loser mentality”.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Olney didn’t compile this to apologize for the Cubs: he does this every year for all of the teams. The real relevance probably is for the good teams that get off to slow starts (which usually accompanies a hard early schedule), and for mediocre teams that get off to fast starts (which usually accompanies an easy early schedule). We get one of the latter every couple of years, and they fade back to the pack once they start playing the good teams. (Sports talking heads refer to it as being unable to sustain momentum.)

      For the former teams, it becomes relevant late in the year when they contrast remaining schedules among contending teams. A rough April and May schedule doesn’t guarantee an easy September schedule, but it obviously boosts the probability of that happening. You might recall Brewers fans whining about this in 2007: the Cubs conveniently had an easy September schedule whereas the Brewers had a hard one, and this was unfair. Except, of course, that this meant that the Cubs had managed a very similar record to the Brewers over 5 months despite having a tougher schedule than the Brewers had had!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I don’t think you read this as thoroughly as you think you did.

      • Jon

        “An easy early season schedule could be bad because it could lead to false hope” is what I got out of it.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          You got about 1/3 of the whole thing, then.

        • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

          And again Jon is twisting everything to fit his narrative of disgust and complaining. It’s getting amusing to watch how he does it with every single comment. You are quite dedicated to this silliness.

          • Jon

            An early season success story might be 50% smoke and mirrors, of course it means, some of the young players are actually playing better. I would sure as hell take a .500+ record going into June vs 10 games under, in any circumstance. Even if it came with a September crash because, winning is good.

            And I get labeled the “negative one” smh.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              I’d gladly take that, too.

              Which only underscores that you aren’t reading what I wrote.

              • DocPeterWimsey

                Indeed, one way to look at what Olney presents is that if a bunch of 0.500 teams were given these schedules, then we’d expect the 0.500 team with the Cubs schedule to have the fewest wins come mid-May.

              • Jon

                I’m not trying to be difficult, but I have I re-read the story twice now, and in all eight paragraphs, I can’t find that point noted. (“Early success might indicate young players are actually playing well”) Can you point out where that was noted?

            • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

              Wow no matter what is said you just complete ignore it and return to the narrative you are pushing. Why even bother replying just start a new thread anytime you have something to say.

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              “I would sure as hell take a .500+ record going into June vs 10 games under, in any circumstance.”

              No one is disagreeing.

              • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

                If just an exercise in facepalming to try and discuss things any further.

      • Smitty

        Its Jon, of course he didn’t read it thoroughly. He read it to find a way to disparage the Cubs and their “plan”

    • Patrick W.

      I can’t think of a less likely candidate for “this is a losers’ mentality” than (paraphrasing) “it’s great the Cubs have a difficult first quarter schedule”

  • jkoehneke

    anyone know if the cubs game is on tv today . If so, what channel?

    • Javier Bryant

      Yep. WGN

  • http://www.w2wn.net Cerambam

    When you are a poor team, schedules have a higher liklihood of being “difficult” because you don’t get the opportunity to play yourself. When you are a strong team, schedules have a higher liklihood of being “easy” because you dont *have* to pay yourself.

    I understand that this is fairly elementary, but I used ot find myself getting upset at the unlucky “difficult” schedule; but the truth is when your good, your schedule wont be hard and when your bad it will be – with degrees of variance.

    • http://www.w2wn.net Cerambam

      The grammar police would give me a life sentence for those mistakes.

      • Funn Dave

        I’ll let you off the hook due to self-policing.

        -BN Grammar Copper

    • Jason P

      If the Cubs were better, and they’d beaten their divisional opponents more often last season, their schedule might look easier because the Reds/Cardinals/Pirates would have had slightly lower winning percentages, but in reality, they would still be just as good as they are now.

  • Spoda17

    The game is on WGN

    • Funn Dave

      I’m stuck at work, but I will feel giddy as all hell just pulling up the Gameday.

  • MightyBear

    Actually the schedule is one of the reasons why I believe the Cubs can surprise. Three of those teams I don’t think will be as good this year. With rainouts and cold weather early on in Chicago and New York, games can be pushed back. In May if Baez is raking and Alcantara is strong and they come up, along with Fujikawa, that could give them a boost. Look at June, they have several games against the Marlins, Mets, Phillies and Brewers. They could go on a roll and be in contention, then the team doesn’t get busted up as much. (It still will be some.) Then in the second half, the young team will run out of gas (even with Bryant whom I believe you’ll see) but it will still be a step forward. That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

    • CubFan Paul

      Finally..

    • Edwin

      If the Cubs do wind up surprising, that could be a very good blueprint. Play above your talent level against the hardest part of your schedule, call up some (hopefully) impact players, and then play out the rest of the schedule.

  • Spoda17

    There are a lot of good reasons to watch the Cubs this year. I still feel they will play better, have a better record, than the projections. Maybe someone slipped a Campangna pill into my coffee this morning, but I feel they will surprise us…

  • Orval Overall

    We should all hope “The Plan” has been thought through enough that it wouldn’t undergo a complete course correction based on something as stupid as the balance of your early and late season schedules.

    I’d bet anything that right now Theo & Jed have a pretty good idea whether the team will be better off being sellers or holders in July, and I don’t think that would change much even if our early season schedule was loaded with Marlins, Brewers, Phillies and Padres games.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      Right now, Theo and Jed know what it will take for them to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, not that they will be buyers or sellers.

      They’ll assemble playoff odds throughout the season and they may go from being buyers in early July to sellers by the deadline even without a losing streak.

  • itzscott

    A couple of things:

    1) If the Cubs predictably do poorly against good teams in the first half of the year but do well against bad teams the 2nd half of the year, would that not be a false positive going into 2015??

    2) Because the same division Pirates, Cardinals and Reds played more of their games against the Cubs than teams in other divisions played against the Cubs….. wouldn’t the fact that the Pirates, Reds and Cardinals had more of an opportunity to feast upon the Cubs have been a deciding factor in them making the playoffs over teams in other divisions??

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      On that first one, I’d gladly take a “false” positive going into 2015, because that could help open up some strategic spending.

      On the second, yes, but it’s offset by the fact that they’ve got to play each other. The Cards, for example, in their division get one really crappy team, one bad team, and two good teams. That’s probably average difficulty.

      • candyland07

        open up some strategic spending.

        I thought the Cubs have been doing just that for past two years and it shows. a terrible team with a awesome farm system.

  • jp3

    I can’t wait to see the lineup for today… Mainly because I’d assume the youngsters will play early on in the preseason before heading out to their affiliates…. Of course we could see a lot Coglan gets to play the whole game to see if he’s getting a red tag in his locker sooner or later

  • Funn Dave

    “…and certainly don’t tell the players that they don’t have a chance.”

    Or Rick. Or Tom. Or Theo.

    • Funn Dave

      Damn right we’re on a first-name basis.

  • candyland07

    A time warp into predicting the Cubs early schedule that it being hard to easy matters none. We all know that the Cubs have a bad team and unless the Cubs can plug in some new faces and create some excitement at some key positions then the fact remains the same, a cellar of a season and the excitement that mirrors those accomplishments.

  • TTH

    The schedule is bound to be considered “tough” when pretty much every team on it is better.

    • Funn Dave

      Hence this sentence: “It would have taken quite a mathematical and scheduling feat for that not to be true.”

      :)

      • TTH

        Well, then let’s just say that the Cubs have a tough schedule for the foreseeable future. The “early” isn’t really necessary.

        • Funn Dave

          I think the early part is still relevant. It indicates that the preponderance of the really good teams we’ll be playing will come about in the first half of the season.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      The criteria for “tough” and “easy” games is the same for every team in Olney’s scheme. That is, game against the Reds is considered to be just as tough for the Cards as for the Cubs.

      So, the only affect is that if you are a good team, then you never present yourself with a tough series and if you are a bad team, then you never present yourself with an easy one.

  • candyland07

    Anybody can be specific and obvious. That’s always been the easy way. It’s not that it’s so difficult to be unspecific and less obvious; it’s just that there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, to be specific and obvious about.

    Bob Dylan

    • Darth Ivy

      For the last 24 hours, I’ve been on a three song binge: Farewell Angelina (Tim O’brien), Boots of Spanish Leather, and Girl from the North Country.

  • Indy57

    We will find out early whether the keys to success are really performing: 1. Rebounds by Rizzo, Castro and Edwards. 2. Progression by Castillo, Wood, Lake and Samardzija 3. Contributions from new additions Olt, Ruggiano, Bonaficio. 4. Offensive production from the outfield. 5. Positive impact from the bullpen. 6. Improved contributions from the group of #4 and #5 starters. All should become evident within that first 30-45 game span. Better to find all that out early against the best to see what we have.

  • candyland07

    Improvement is what I hope to see. Improvement helps people to come into a park that makes that profit margin better. Improvement with gradual expectations concerning the Cubs is key to a fun filled season even if the Cubs are still terrible . Improvement lessens terrible. The Cubs are terrible at 2b with no hope of improving with its current person at the helm.

  • Edwin

    I wonder if the Cubs look at doing some buying this season as well as selling. They’ve got a decent minor league system, it’d be nice to start turning it into some MLB talent.

    • candyland07

      Yes the time has come for some of those players to be brought up.Not, Bryant he needs his AB and conditioning in the farm system but if your not gonna spend at the major league level, lets see what some of these youngsters can do and not do. that already have 2 to three years on the farm. If they are as bad as they are it makes more sense to see what you have then sign players that never make it onto the field. The Cubs front office have many examples that they bought and not play due to injury or bad players. I doubt i need to list those players.

      Let the kids play – its not like The Cubs have sign anybody to create a great deal of optimism.

  • kridertr

    The lineups have been posted for today and tomorrow. No almora, Bryant, alcantara, soler, or Villanueva in the starting lineup. So people are probly gonna be pissed lol. They will all come in and replace the starters in the 4th or 5 th inning. So no reason to blow this out of proportion lol

  • J. L.

    “But if I can step back, I’ll probably concede that it’s better to know whether the Cubs are truly a .500 or better team in the first half, or whether they beat up on a bunch of cream-puffs and lucked into a .500 record on July 15.”

    But having a particularly tough schedule should “distort” one team’s record as much as having a particularly easy schedule, right? I mean, if the Cubs are a .450 team by July having that kind of early schedule, one could argue that they are “truly” a .550 team and therefore should go for it in the second half. (Not that that would be a good idea.)

    • Eternal Pessimist

      I would be pretty happy with a .450 start against that loaded schedule, but would hope that if Pittsburg and St Looser is doing well we step back, sell some short term assets, and start to bring up next years crop (Baez, and possibly Alcantara).

  • Porkslap

    Am I the only one around here…
    …that has a sliver of hope for 2014?
    If I could post a poll, I’d be curious to see what people are rooting for:
    - Competitive all year long but fail to make playoffs
    - Worst record in baseball, secure number 1 2015 draft pick
    Which would you rather happen?

    • Fishin Phil

      I’m going for the first option. I always like to hold out hope until they prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is pointless.

      • Eternal Pessimist

        I’m rooting for a World Series win in 2014 (but I also hope I stumble into a big pile of money and have a supermodel fall in love with me…Fangraphs has the supermodel at .0000000000001% chance….Yay!!! I have a chance!!!!!)

    • Edwin

      It depends why the team is competitive all year long vs why they have the worst record in baseball.

      If they’re competative because Castro or Rizzo or someone else has made a sizable improvement to their game, one that can be continued going forward, than I’d be very happy, even though they didn’t make the playoffs.

      If they’re competative due to a fluke season, I’ll be happy for the ride, but not as excited for the following season.

      If they have the worst record due to being one of the worst teams, I’ll be upset and worried that the future team will have too large of a hole to climb out of.

      If they have the worst record due to a fluke, I’ll be dissapointed in the season, but I’ll remain somewhat hopefull for a quick turnaround the following season.

      • candyland07

        you covered all aspects. yet if a team over performs then going into next year with optimism is expected. if they underperformed then optimism is also justifiable but to go into a season with bad expectation … well that just downright – terrible. seems like terrible is the special word for today. lets not be terrible.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Edwin has the right of it. The Yanks overperformed last year. Cashman said this winter that that was swell, but he was treating that team like a 75-win team, not an 84-win team. Moreover, it was a 75-win team that was losing Cano.

          We saw that last years with the Orioles, too. The 2013 O’s were a lot better than the 2012 O’s. However, the 2012 O’s drastically overperformed, and O’s fans were aware that even a lot of improvement might not make up for over-achievement. It didn’t.

          • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

            Showalter just didn’t bring enough belly fire into the 2013 season. That and there was an Oriole fan that didn’t wear the same shirt as the 2012 season.

      • Porkslap

        Ok feeling better. Happy most of us are at least hoping for a good season, even if it is not expected.

    • Rebuilding

      Nope. It’s you, Theo and Tom Ricketts holding out hope. I kid. I think if everything breaks the right way this team could win 75-80 games. With the 2 wildcards that could make some games in August somewhat interesting (like being 7-10 games out of the WC). For me, I just really care how Castro, Rizzo, Baez, Bryant, Almora, Soler, Alcantera, Olt, Vogelbach, Edwards and Johnson develop. They will be the core when this team is truly competitive

  • candyland07

    Neither, I would hope the Cubs try and put the best team on the field and improve upon that team. focus on being a team and not some sort of rent a center that cheats it customers.

  • Blackhawks1963

    Right now, I predict the Cubs going 67-95. The season recond is irrelevant to me so long as the fruits of the farm system start popping up.

    Fearless predictions as of this early stage of spring training..

    NL East – Washington, Atlanta, NY Mets, Florida, Philadelphia
    NL Central – St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Chicago
    NL West – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Arizona, San Diego, Colorado
    Wildcards – Pittsburgh, San Francisco
    NL Pennant – Washington over St. Louis

    AL East – Tampa Bay, New York, Baltimore, Boston, Toronto
    AL Central – Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago
    AL West – Oakland, Texas, Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston
    Wildcards – New York, Texas
    AL Pennant – Tampa Bay over New York

    World Series – Washington over Tampa Bay

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