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  • Do We Need to Account More for the Schedule When Assessing the Cubs?

    Matt Trueblood

    The Cubs’ seasonal arc, to date, can be traced by checking in on them against each of their AL West opponents. Early on, they had exciting and emotional wins over the Rangers and Mariners, and then an affirming sweep of the A’s. By contrast, excruciating and deflating losses to the Astros and Mariners have defined the last month. 

    Image courtesy of © Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

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    We can’t make any meaningful predictions about the balance of the season based on those games, though, because the Cubs are now done with that division. They’ve also played the Dodgers, Padres, Marlins. Twins, and Rays for the last time. Entering Tuesday, though, they still haven’t tested themselves against the surprising division leaders, the Pirates. The new MLB schedule structure, with fewer intradivisional contests and all 29 other teams on the schedule every year, is an invisible hand guiding the progress of all of our observations and assessments thus far.

    In light of that, maybe we—or at least some plurality of us, as baseball fans—are being too quick and too confident in our evaluations of teams, a fortnight past Memorial Day. It feels like this infuriating, frequently flat, underachieving pattern is the identity of the 2023 Cubs, but perhaps that’s an overconfident judgment. After all, the Rays, the Twins, the Dodgers, the Padres, the top four teams in the AL West, and even the Marlins appear to be legitimate contenders. Meanwhile (unlike, for instance, the Brewers and Pirates), the Cubs haven’t yet gotten to face the Royals, Rockies, or Tigers.

    Please don’t read that as a sophist’s plea that the Cubs are actually good, or at least that they have been to this point. There are counterexamples to these samples of the schedule. Besides, we can’t assume that each of the league’s lousiest or most dominant teams are perfectly described by their records, any more than we can assume the same of the Cubs. All I want to communicate—and the only takeaway from the above that I wholeheartedly endorse—is that it might be earlier than we believe, in terms of learning about the way this season will unfold. 

    Before we throw ourselves fully into the abyss of another July concerned only with the performance of potential trade chips, then, we should watch carefully for another four weeks. Between now and the All-Star break, the Cubs have a tough schedule. The only team they face during that period that was expected to be bad before the season began is the aforementioned Pirates, the team they (instead) find themselves chasing, and whom they host at Wrigley this week. We'll learn much more about the team, from its mentals to its fundamentals, as they see a new set of opponents and respond to a changing set of circumstances. All of this happens during every season, but the longer circuits of the new schedule should mean that we mark fewer laps by the same point in terms of games played.

    It’s not too late, because it’s not as late as it was the same number of games into each of the last 20 previous seasons. That doesn’t mean the Cubs are in good shape, or that the problems that have been so often on display during the first 40 percent of this campaign aren’t real. It just means that we have a bit more to learn than we did back when teams played fewer opponents and spent half their season staring across at the same four logos in the opposing dugouts. Thank Rob Manfred for small favors.

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    There's really not a ton of truly bad teams this year it seems like compared to other years.  And of the actual bad teams record-wise we have a lot of games left against them

    CWS - 4/4 remaining

    Detroit - 3/3 remaining

    KC - 3/3 remaining

    Oakland - 0/3 remaining

    Washington - 3/7 remaining

    St Louis - 10/13 remaining

    Colorado - 6/6 remaining

    That's every team more than 4 games under .500 right now, and of the 41 games against those teams on the schedule, we've only played 10 of them so far.  Only 2 more of those games will be played between now and July 16th which is roughly the deadline for the Cubs picking a lane in terms of buying or selling. 29 of "easier games" will be played after that date (13 straight games against those teams begin on July 17).

    Like you pointed out, it doesn't mean the Cubs are magically good because their schedule has been tougher, but if 29 of their 41 easiest games came before any trade deadline decisions needed to be made instead of after, there's a chance we'd be in a better position to buy.


    *Also just a caveat that its still possible the Pirates are actually not that good and by the end of the season they may be grouped into the bad teams.

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