The Road Ahead – Keys to the Month of May
It should be a fun weekend for Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the various former Red Sox’s employees as the Cubs head to Boston with a 12-9 record. It is safe to say the 2017 team is still working out some early season kinks. Much of the “disappointment” surrounding the start to the season stems from the comparisons to last year’s 15-5 record entering play on April 28th. The Cubs came out of the gates firing on all cylinders featuring an unrelenting offense, shut down pitching staff, and unprecedented defense on their way to 103 wins and a central division title margin of 17.5 games. Wouldn’t it be nice to get out to a start like that every season? Well, duh.. but that’s not necessarily very realistic. The start of this season is looking similar to that of 2015, which turned into a pretty magical season in its own right. By this time April 2015 the team was 12-7. Their pitching staff included the likes of Travis Wood, Jason Hammel, and a less dominant Kyle Hendricks. Kris Bryant still hadn’t hit one big league home run, Addison Russell was a second baseman, and guys like Junior Lake, Mike Olt, and Johnathan Herrera filled out our bench. That team went on to win 97 games and came within 4 games of a National League Pennant. That was also the year that saw three playoff teams from the National League Central, which you could argue we may never see again from any division. Since then, the Pirates and Cardinals have regressed significantly while the Cubs prevailed as World Champions. It is still way to early for the sky to be falling.
Nobody in the organization will admit it, but there seems to be a slight hangover surrounding this team coming off their early November run. A much deserved hangover, if you ask me. Constant interviews, national television features, and pregame gimmicks are plenty to knock a group of 20-somethings out of their routine. Not to mention little off-season rest. The beginning of a new month (and a change in the weather, hopefully) gives them the opportunity to turn the page, and I fully expect them to put their foot on the gas. I am sure nobody understands this more than Joe Maddon and the veteran clubhouse leaders.
Starting with this series against Boston, the schedule through May will consists of two sprints of 13 and 16 consecutive games, with a buffer series against the Cardinals in the middle. The young Phillies and Yankees come to town for four and three game series. So far both teams show promise for the future, with plenty of talented young hitters on both clubs. The Phillies are still in rebuilding mode, while the Yankees hold a legitimate shot to reach the post season. The Yankee’s will come in looking to hit home runs and hand an early lead to a nasty bullpen featuring Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman. A quick stop in Denver opens the second week of play and closes out the first of the two sprints will be a welcome change of altitude for a surging offense, and an unwelcome change for a struggling pitching staff. Lets all hold hands an hope for the former. An off day into a three game series in St. Louis put the Cubs against their division rival, who have played better of late, but still show weakness in their defensive. Another off-day leads into the 16 game stretch, starting with six games against the Reds and Brewers and finishing with four against the beat up San Francisco Giants. The Cubs travel west in search for gold, er, to face off against the Dodgers and Padres to close out the month.
My keys to the month of May are fairly straight forward.
- Work out the kinks in the starting rotation.
- Continue to build reliable bridges from starter to Wade Davis.
- Continue to grind at-bats, because That’s Cub.
- Come through with runners on base, in scoring position. Duh.
- Beat up on the weaker teams (Reds, Brewers, Padres, Phillies). Play well in the division.
- Meatloaf.. 2 outta 3 ain’t bad. Just win series.
- Stay. Healthy.
Playing so many consecutive games is a challenge to any team, even the historic 2016 Cubs sputtered into the all-star break last season during that run of 24 games in 24 days. Luckily it is still early and guys are generally well rested. With most of the games at home this month it should keep the guys from getting wound too tight and developing cabin fever in the hotel room. Don’t over look the early success of teams like the Yankees and Rockies (and even the Phillies, Reds, and Brewers have played good baseball). Winning each series 2/3 and splitting the four-gamers would put the Cubs at 18-11 for the month, which would be tough but not out of the question given the talent and makeup of the team. Onward we go, here’s to a good month of May.