For the first three years of the Chicago Cubs’ rebuild, folks knew the score going into the season: if things played out as expected, the Cubs would be sellers come July, and early drafters come the next June.
The caveat each year, of course, was that if the Cubs somehow got off to an unlikely, feverish start in April and May, maybe they change plans and become buyers – every season is sacred, after all.
But that hot start never came, and the Cubs struggled early in each of those three seasons, going 8-15, 10-16, and 9-17. The seller talk started earlier each year.
This season, however, is expected to be different. Even if the Cubs had a tough April, I’m not so sure we would start talking about a sell-off. I’m not even sure that would happen after a tough May. Yes, I think this front office would make the best long-term decisions in that case, but it’s possible that the best long-term decision will be to stay the course, and prove to everyone that the 2015 season is about growth and winning.
Let’s not think that way just yet, though. Instead, let’s focus on the possibility that the Cubs do finally have that strong start, and think about how nice it’s going to be to watch competitive baseball in May and June, and dream on the possibility of adding pieces to supplement the team down the stretch. A strong start will further energize the fan base (helping drive ticket sales and TV ratings – both of which will help down the road), and may even help the players as they transition to something new.
Writing at the new BP Wrigleyville site, Sahadev Sharma looks at the importance of a good start – beginning with game two – in a perfect example of the kinds of pieces I’m very excited to be seeing at the new place. Sharma spoke with Cubs Baseball President Theo Epstein on what is important for the season, among other things, and Epstein responded that getting off to a good start this year is critical.
“I think it’s so important in this division. That’s key for us,” Epstein said. “We’ve put ourselves in a big hole the last few years. We have more talent this year and a more realistic chance to go do some damage and really compete this year. But the start is just so essential, especially when you’re in a really competitive division.”
Sharma’s piece has additional thoughts from Epstein, Joe Maddon and David Ross on getting past Opening Day, and keeping the right mindset for the full season. It’s a great read.
For the Cubs, a full 25 of their first 31 games come against NL Central opponents (and it would have been 26 of 32, but for this week’s postponement). Getting off to a hot start, then, is doubly critical for this year’s club, for almost every win or loss is a loss or win for another team in the Central.
This weekend, the Cubs will head out for one of their two non-Central series during that 31-game stretch, taking on the Rockies at Coors Field. The Rockies are undefeated on the early season, but still represent perhaps the only truly “weak on paper” team the Cubs will face until late May.
The early season is critical for the Cubs in 2015, and it’s also likely to be rather tough.