When it comes to the new balanced schedule implemented by Major League Baseball this season, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has maintained that he enjoys it. It gives the team a chance to visit cities it didn’t often get to visit, it gives the team a chance to face opponents it didn’t often get to face, and it breaks up some of the monotony of the season by taking away series against division opponents.
“I think that seeing all these other teams is just good for baseball in general,” Hoyer said Wednesday while surrounded by a group of reporters in the home dugout at Wrigley Field. “I think it’s good for competition overall. I’m in favor of it.”
However, there is a simple consequence that comes as a result the balanced schedule. If there are less division games, that means there are less chances for the Cubs to go head-to-head with their division rivals to gain ground when they fall behind in the standings. And in a season where the best National League Central team is only two games above .500, the Cubs might rather want to try to beat up on the teams in their division versus play the best MLB has to offer.
Fortunately for the Cubs, who even after Wednesday’s 10-6 win over the Pirates are seven games under .500 and 4 1/2 games back of first place, they still have plenty of opportunities left to battle their division foes. Through their first 67 games, they played just 13 against NL Central teams (roughly 19 percent). Over the remaining 95 contests, 39 are against division rivals (just over 41 percent), including six of their next nine. So, there will be plenty of chances for them to increase their win total and sink their division foes’ records at the same time.
“It just feels like everything has been sort of backloaded, so as we go forward, we’ll play a lot more games against the division,” Hoyer said.
In a different season, the number of division games remaining might feel more meaningless given the Cubs’ record.
After over a month of struggles, the Cubs entered this series against the Pirates nine games under .500 with the possibility of a third straight season of selling at the deadline staring them in the face. Had anyone taken advantage of an overall awful division, the gap to the top would be much more daunting. But after dropping the first two games of this series, Pittsburgh heads into Thursday’s series finale as that aforementioned first-place squad sitting just two games above .500 (34-32). Milwaukee is second at .500 on the dot (34-34), is Cincinnati is only a game below .500 (34-35).
Meanwhile, the 30-37 Cubs are certainly not out of it. Hoyer can look at the fact that the division is still so wide open as a reason to put off making a decision on the direction the team goes at the deadline for another few weeks.
“It’s probably rare to be at a point where you would say that about a division in the middle of June, where like, I think anyone can still win it,” Hoyer said. “No one has pulled away, or even pulled away from .500. I think that’s one of the challenges of evaluating your team is that you’re evaluating where you are in the standings, but you’re also evaluating how you’re performing.”
With June still being an important month in terms of that direction, can the Cubs finish the second half of it strong enough to push Hoyer toward buying?
As far as taking solace in the fact that the division is still up for grabs, Hoyer himself said a few weeks back that “it’s not ‘early’ forever.” A point was going to come where the Cubs couldn’t just tell themselves it’s early in the season and there’s still a lot of baseball left to play. Fortunately for them, the rest of the Central allowed them to float through a bad month-plus of baseball and still remain squarely in the race.
By mid-June of 2022, the Cubs’ deadline fate was sealed. A year later, a struggling squad could turn into one fighting for a division crown if they can take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. It may not be “early” anymore, but it’s certainly not too late, either.
“I think we have a ways to go,” Hoyer said. “I mean, we have six full weeks, really, to get to the end of July. A lot happens in that time. We’ve only played, what, 10 weeks so far? We have six more to play to get a feel for where we are. I think we have to evaluate all of that. But yeah, obviously, given where we are in relation to .500, I think in a normal season, we would be looking at a much steeper climb than we are right now. Obviously, that’s a fortunate thing [that we’re not].”
More from Hoyer
- On his reaction to Marcus Stroman’s tweet regarding extension talks: “Not really any. I mean, honestly, like I’ve talked about it a million times, we just don’t talk about those things. Obviously, he made that public, and listen, I love the fact that he wants to be here, and we’ve had conversations about it. I’m not going to disclose what we’ve talked about, but there’s dialogue, and we’ll keep that in house.”
- On Cody Bellinger beginning his rehab assignment playing first base: “We’ve always known he has that skill set. Obviously, he’s a really good first baseman. In a way, it is a little bit of a waste of a really great athlete and great outfielder to put him at first, which is obviously what the Dodgers ended up deciding when they put him out there. … I mean, certainly, the hope over time is he gets back out there. I think his biggest impact for the Cubs is probably playing center field. … It makes a lot of sense for us to [play Bellinger at first] now. Obviously, we’re not doing this because we see him as our first baseman for the rest of the year, but more as a way of getting him back in the lineup.”
- On pitching prospect Ben Brown’s performance in 2022: “It was good to see him have a great outing [Wednesday]. He’s been really good all year. He’s had a couple bad outings, but the totality of the 11-12 starts he’s made has been really excellent. The strikeout rate has been phenomenal. We loved getting to know him in spring training a little bit after the trade last year. I feel like he’s a real competitor. I think he knows his future is in the big leagues, and it’s nice to see a guy with that kind of confidence and conviction. There’s no doubt he’s going to help this organization a lot.”
- On Kyle Hendricks’ no-hit bid in San Francisco: “I wish I had been there. That was so fun to watch. I found myself rooting so hard for him to get it, because I think it’s so hard for a contact pitcher to have a chance at that. And then, obviously, it would’ve been such a wonderful thing, given how hard he had to rehab and come back. I’ve said it a million times: He’s as good a teammate as I’ve been around and as good a competitor as I’ve been around in my career. You want people like that to succeed. I think you kind of watched that game with a smile on your face knowing that he was in control.”
- On outfield prospect Brennen Davis heading to the minor league IL: “Over the next few days, we’ll probably have some more news on that. He’s seeing doctors. Just trying to get to the bottom of… he’s been out there, he obviously hasn’t been impacting the ball the same way he did. The power hasn’t been there. Just trying to get to the bottom of it, because we’ve seen him when he’s right and how impactful he can be. That’s not where he is right now. We just need to get to the bottom of what is ailing him physically and what we can do about it. … It’s not back related.”