Who are the Chicago Cubs?
Over the course of the first two months of the season there have been two answers to that question. During April, the Cubs didn’t look like a team that was going to be playing meaningful baseball late in the season as they stumbled out of the gate.
But after a scorching May where they went 19-8 with a resurgence on offense and improved starting pitching despite a crazy run of injuries, and currently sit atop the National League Central, they’ve shown they aren’t looking to roll over any time soon.
“I think we knew we had a good team starting the season and I think when you get to prove your beliefs and have a really good month like we just had, it’s always encouraging,” manager David Ross said.
June will offer a new challenge for the Cubs and after digging themselves out of an early hole, they begin a long stretch against some of baseball’s best. After their three game set against the Padres at Wrigley Field, the Cubs embark on a West Coast trip with series against the Giants, Padres and Dodgers later in the month – each has a top-3 record in the NL.
“I think anytime a team goes out to the West Coast, it’s challenging,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said. “Just like it’s challenging for a West Coast team to come East. We do that twice in the next month and it’s a real challenge for any team. It’s a real challenge for us. I think we’ll learn a lot about this team over the month of June.
“To go out there and have success, that’s certainly a mark of a team that has a chance to compete in the postseason. That’s the kind of environment you have to play in the postseason, you have to go to the West Coast. Right now, those three teams in the West are certainly in the cream of the crop in the National League so far.”
The Cubs have been playing their best baseball of the season over the last month and continued to play that way in Monday’s 7-2 win over the Padres. The Cubs are currently 12-9 against teams with winning records this season and will have to keep that level of play going with 13 games against NL West opponents in June.
“When you play against the best, it’s incredible what it does,” hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. Competition really brings the best out when trying to beat the best. … I think the guys enjoy it when they look at the lineup card and see who they’re facing and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be a good one.”
It’s difficult for any team to try to compete with a big portion of the roster unavailable, but that’s now the Cubs reality with 12 players currently on the injured list.
As Jason Heyward, Jake Marisnick, Nico Hoerner, and most recently Anthony Rizzo and Trevor Williams work their way back from various injuries, things are not going to get any easier, at least for the foreseeable future.
“It’s what this season kind of has in store for Major League Baseball,” Ross said. “It’s never fun. You want to cry uncle sometimes, but it is what we’re dealing with … I’m not going to complain about it, just move through it. We’ve got some guys that are out there … that I don’t think are too far away [from returning].”
“I feel like everybody’s pulling on the same end of the rope. Not to be cliche, but it does feel like everybody has continued to next man up [mentality] and done a nice job and going out there and competing and trying to win baseball games and you feel that from our dugout.”