Some big-picture perspective as Cubs begin huge series with Brewers


Nobody can blame Cubs fans for being frustrated after the events of the weekend in Washington, D.C.

Hell, the Cubs are plenty frustrated, too.

Not only were the Cubs trapped at Nationals Park forced to endure nearly 11 hours of rain delays, but they now have to go back east on what was supposed to be their only off-day in a 30-day stretch (Thursday).

Oh yeah, and they have to face Max Scherzer, who just shut down this Cubs lineup in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader. 

And a hurricane is set to hit the east coast later this week and very likely would impact the conditions at Nationals Park.

On top of all that, the Cubs came away with just one win in the three games they actually played in D.C. and enter this all-important series with the Brewers just two games up in the NL Central.

So yeah, things are not great at the moment. 

But in times like these, it's important to keep everything in perspective, which Joe Maddon and the Cubs do an excellent job of.

There's also the semi-silver lining in that the Cubs get to roll out Jon Lester to begin this three-game set with the Brewers since he only tossed one inning Friday in a game that ultimately did not count.

"The bright side is just getting through it," Maddon said Sunday morning. "We've lost two tough games during this stretch — Monday in Milwaukee and the second one [Saturday] night. Those are the two tough ones. Otherwise, we've done really well during the stretch and I've been really pleased with it.

"And it's not easy to do what we've been doing over the last couple weeks and how well we've actually played. Some really reliable bullpen guys have had a hard time in a couple late moments, but that's gonna happen. 

"Health-wise, we're in pretty good shape. Even the bullpen's in pretty good shape. It's just that they're not gonna be perfect every time out."

Maddon's right, of course. It's just that the meltdowns from the likes of Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Carl Edwards Jr. have all come at once over the last week. Plus, Pedro Strop and Jesse Chavez both struggled in the Cubs' lone win in Milwaukee last week (though Strop managed to escape his self-inflicted jam).

It's also worth pointing out that this very well may be the toughest stretch for the Cubs in a lifetime. MLB almost never forces teams to go a full 30 days without an off-day (yes, they were "off' on Sunday, but they still spent 7-8 hours at the ballpark just waiting).

At least the Cubs got in at a reasonable time Sunday night and got to sleep in their own beds after their first four-city road trip since 2009. 

They have gone 12-7 since this tough stretch started, which was enough to guarantee a winning record in the 23-games-in-23-days stretch before Thursday's rain make-up game emerged on the schedule.

Here are more reasons for optimism as we look at the big picture of September:

The Cubs still control their own destiny

In addition to a 2-game lead over the Brewers in the division, the Cubs are also 4.5 games better than the Cardinals for the first wild-card spot and 5.5 games better than the Dodgers for the second wild-card spot.

The team Theo Epstein has built and added to throughout the year still has a 99.8 percent chance of making the playoffs.

But of course they'd like to make it by winning the division and earning the top seed in the NL.

As tough as this stretch has been to this point and as hard as the next 10 days will be, the Cubs won't lose their division lead because of MLB's scheduling or Mother Nature.

The Cubs are not crying or complaining, nor should they. Nobody would care outside of the fanbase.

If they take care of business themselves, they'll be just fine, regardless of how many days in a row they play or what their September travel schedule looked like.

That begins with the final series of the season against the Brewers Monday night.

Believe it or not, the schedule does get easier

From Aug. 16 through Sept. 9, the Cubs have played just 7 games at Wrigley Field.

From Monday through the end of the season (Sept. 30), the Cubs will play 16 of their final 20 games in the city of Chicago and be able to sleep in their own beds.

The Cubs only have to hop on a plane twice until October and possibly not even until Game 3 of the NLDS if they can lock up homefield advantage.

The Cubs only have two road series left (three if you're counting Thursday in D.C.) and thanks to the latest Crosstown matchup ever, one of those series is on the South Side of Chicago.

There will be a flight to Arizona Sunday night and then back to Chicago after next Wednesday's night game against the Diamondbacks, but that could be it for a month for some of the Cubs.

As for Thursday, why would the Cubs send everybody? If Cole Hamels or Mike Montgomery is starting, why would Lester, Kyle Hendricks or Jose Quintana need to go? If a player like Ben Zobrist was going to get an off-day Thursday anyway, why would the Cubs need to force him to endure that weary travel schedule?

It's entirely possible the Cubs will get creative and only send the players they need to to D.C. MLB teams do stuff like that all the time, often sending starting pitchers back to the hotel for rest (as the Nationals did with Scherzer during Friday's rain delays) or on to a city ahead of the rest of the team.

It's also possible the league ultimately decides to move the game from D.C. to a neutral site with the impending hurricane.

The Cubs are dominant at home

Maddon and Co. have the most home games in baseball (13) over the final three weeks, which is a great thing considering only the Red Sox and Yankees have a better home record than the Cubs (44-24).

The Cubs have not lost a series at Wrigley Field since May 25, going 10-0-3 in home sets in that span.

The Cubs also only play nine of their final 20 games against contenders. Yes, the Reds and Pirates tend to give the Cubs tough battles on a regular basis, but Cincinnati was swept out of Chicago in a four-game series last month and the Reds, Pirates and White Sox are at the point where they're more focused on the future than this season.

And now the Cubs won't have to contend with Michael Kopech on the South Side after the awful news about his elbow over the weekend. There will not be any Quintana-Eloy Jimenez narratives, either, as the Sox opted not to promote their top prospect for the final month.

The White Sox and Reds pitching staffs both rank near the bottom of baseball, so meeting those two teams in September could spell good news for the Cubs offense as they fine-tune for October.

September rosters are a great thing

Can you imagine if the Cubs had to cover all these games in a row with only a 25-man roster? They'd be exhausted and every pitcher's arm would be near falling off.

But that's not the case here, as the Cubs have plenty of reinforcements to spell guys like Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo, even if for only a couple innings in a blowout game.

And there's been more than enough pitching to cover games like the first part of Saturday where the Cubs are getting blown out and don't need to waste their "A" relievers.

"You look at all the names on the card and you say — 'damn, that's a lot of guys' — but we've needed them to cover," Maddon said.

No, this is certainly not an easy stretch for the Cubs. 

But there is also no room for frustration if this team wants to accomplish their goal of another championship.

"It's just unusual to be in this position, that's all," Maddon said. "We've not done it before, not been into this weather-related stuff as heavily as we are right now. But there's nothing we can do about it. You just do it."

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