Each baseball season tells its own story, and though many of the superficial details are similar year to year—all seasons start in the spring and end in the fall, for example—no two stories end up coming out quite the same. It’s important, therefore, to actively resist the temptation to assign any sort of label to the 2016 season simply based on past seasons that bear a kind of similarity (I’m looking at you, 1985 and 2004). As Robert Frost noted before a group of college students in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1931, every comparison breaks down somewhere.
So what will the story of 2016 look like? We don’t know, of course, but we can take a look at the schedule and try to guess. Let’s go month by month, and imagine how the story might unfold:
The Cubs start in an unusual fashion this year, making a West Coast trip to start the season, something they have not done since 1984, when they started the season in San Francisco, San Diego, and then Los Angeles. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has made it known how he feels about facing the Cubs on opening night, and seems to have other things on his mind:
Mike Scioscia today: "I look forward to opening night (vs Cubs) but I'd rather face Joe in another series later, if you know what I mean."
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) February 23, 2016
On the whole, April stands to be a fairly easy month—on paper—for the Cubs, with 10 games against the Reds and Brewers, not to mention a series against the Rockies. The series in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks might be interesting, given their moves this offeason, but the most intriguing series of the month will come April 18-20 in St. Louis. Cardinals fans will have ample opportunity to welcome Jason Heyward and John Lackey back to their fine city with open arms, and I’m sure they will.
This will be a challenging month, in part because there are just three off days built in and because the Cubs head to St. Louis again. They’ll be there on the 23-25th, but the good news here is probably that they won’t have to make any other trips to the face the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. What is probably more concerning here is that the Cubs face the Pirates in two different series that are just over a week apart. They’ll start in Pittsburgh at the very beginning of the month, setting the stage for a lively environment, given the results of a certain Wild Card game last October. That’s followed by a series at Wrigley against the Pirates at the end of the next week, followed by a reprieve in the form of a road trip to Milwaukee on the 17-19th. As a whole, May stands to be a more challenging month than its predecessor, with four games against the Nationals, three against the Cardinals, six against the Pirates, and two against the Dodgers to close out the month.
This is usually when the hockey fans start to watch, and this season’s June promises an exciting first month for them. Really, the story of this month is probably a home stretch that starts with the Pirates on the 17th and ends with the Cardinals on the 22nd. And all of that is preceded by a road trip to face the Nationals. If the Cubs are going to stumble, it will probably be in this stretch of nine games. Thankfully, the rest of June has been sprinkled with games against the Braves, Reds, and Phillies. Even with a very tough mid-month stretch, I think they’ll come out of this month just fine.
Though they sneak in the start of this series at the very end of the previous month, the beginning of July is marked by the first trip back to New York to face the Mets since a certain week last October that many of us would like to forget. The Cubs will host the Mets later this month, in the week just after the All Star break, so leading up to a trade deadline that might just prove crucial for both teams. I expect the Cubs’ll be seeing more of the Mets in the playoffs in 2016, so this might be a nice preview. Other than those two series, there will be a lot of action against American League teams in July, including the probably over-hyped “Crosstown Cup” against the White Sox. The July 25-28 series starts with two games at U.S. Cellular, and then two games at Wrigley. By that point in the season, the Sox might be fun to watch just for the schadenfreude.
Post trade deadline, I have to wonder if by this point the Cubs will have a slightly different-looking rotation, and one of their outfielders is gone, but time of course will tell. This part of the season can sometimes be less about the team the Cubs are facing, and more about how well they’ve stayed healthy and rested. The flexibility on the roster defensively should work heavily to their advantage as they reach August, and that will be crucial with a long four game series at Wrigley against the Cardinals and an end of the month homestand with the Pirates, not to mention the always difficult West Coast trips, and in August they spend 12 games in Oakland, Colorado, San Diego, and Los Angeles. This could prove to be a surprisingly difficult month.
The last month of the regular season will be an absolute crucible. After a challenging August, September will put the Cubs to the test. Thankfully they’ll close the 162 game schedule with three games against the hapless Reds, but the team might just be licking their wounds by then. They will play the Cardinals six times, the Pirates four times, and as if that’s not enough, they have a four game series against the Giants to start the month followed by three games in Houston the following weekend. At least there are the six games against the Reds and three against the Brewers during this stretch, but the last two months of the Cubs’ season will have no shortage of drama.
And that’s that. The story of the 2016 season will play out in those terms. The script has been written already, in the form of the schedule. Now it’s on the Chicago Cubs to bring it to life.
Lead photo courtesy Caylor Arnold—USA Today Sports.