Down the stretch they come.
The Cubs have 46 regular season games remaining. And for the first time since 2009, the games are meaningful.
They will play 23 games at Wrigley Field, where the team is 34-24. Sixteen of those 23 will come against sub-.500 teams.
The breakdown of those games:
- Tigers (2), Braves (4), Indians (1), Reds (3), Diamondbacks (3), Brewers (3).
The Cubs’ seven remaining home games will come against teams with winning records. Those contests include three against the Cardinals (Sept. 18-20) and Pirates (Sept. 25-27), followed by one game against the Royals on Sept. 28.
After this seven-game homestand ends on Aug. 24 against the Indians, the Cubs will play the first of their remaining 23 road games, where the team is 33-25. This grouping of games features 13 games against teams with records that are .500 or better.
- Giants (3), Dodgers (3), Cardinals (3), Pirates (4).
The Cubs also have 10 road games scheduled against teams with sub-.500 records. That group includes four against the Phillies (Sept. 10-13) and six straight to close out the regular season against the Reds (Sept. 28-Oct. 1) and Brewers (Oct. 2-4).
Entering this stretch, the Cubs are 23-17 (.575 win pct.) against the sub-.500 teams left on their schedule. A healthy chunk has come with a 9-4 record against both the Brewers and Reds.
On the other hand, the Cubs are only 18-17 (.514 win pct.) against the winning teams remaining on their schedule. Nearly half of the Cubs’ losses against teams with winning records have come against the Cardinals, against whom the Cubs own a 4-9 record.
And yet, part of the reason the Cubs are still hanging tough in the Wild Card hunt is because they have won 7 of 12 against the team immediately ahead of them in the standings (Pirates) and all four against the team closest to them in the chase for the second Wild Card spot (Giants).
The challenge ahead isn’t limited to facing contenders, as some of the pitching match-ups in the coming days and weeks will be no small task.
According to the probables listed on ESPN.com, the Cubs will face some pretty stiff competition on the bump in the near future.
- Friday vs. Braves: Shelby Miller (2.8 WAR, 2.43 ERA/3.21 FIP/3.85 xFIP)
- Aug. 24 vs. Indians: Corey Kluber (5.3 WAR, 3.34 ERA/2.59 FIP/2.93 xFIP)
- Aug. 27 vs. Giants: Madison Bumgarner (3.8 WAR, 2.98 ERA/2.86 FIP/2.93 xFIP)
- Aug. 29 vs. Dodgers: Zack Greinke (4.8 WAR, 1.54 ERA/2.54 FIP/4.12 xFIP)
- Aug. 30 vs. Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw (5.4 WAR, 2.39 ERA/2.19 FIP/2.09 xFIP)
Of course the Cubs will throw out some pretty good pitchers of their own over the next 12 days, headlined by three Jon Lester starts (Aug. 19 vs. Detroit, 24th vs. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, 30th at Los Angeles and against Clayton Kershaw) and a pair of probable Jake Arrieta starts (Aug. 21 vs. Atlanta’s Shelby Miller, 26th at San Francisco).
Expectations are high and so are hopes for this team’s future as it is coming on the heels of a nine-game winning streak and a stretch of games in which the Cubs had won 16 of 19. The next 13 games that lie ahead— including the final six of a road trip against teams with winning records — could tell us a lot about the team moving into September.
As the radio voice of the Cubs Pat Hughes often says in the late innings: “Fasten those seat belts.”