How the Cubs are navigating the challenge of their unique schedule
The Cubs understand how fortunate they are to be in a position to play in momentous events like the Field of Dreams game last season or the London Series last weekend.
But at the same time, the high-profile events can be a drain on a team in the middle of a marathon 162-game season.
“One a year is enough for me,” manager David Ross quipped Tuesday afternoon before his team’s 5-1 loss to the Phillies.
The Cubs thoroughly enjoyed their once-in-a-lifetime experience playing in Europe but are now facing the reality of playing 13 straight games heading into the All-Star Break.
The next two weeks will be pivotal for the Cubs as they work to climb all the way to the top of the National League Central.
In an effort to combat the travel to London, the Cubs advised the players and team personnel to stay up after flying overnight and arriving at about 10 a.m. Thursday. The idea was to help get acclimated to the new sleep schedule.
“Everybody’s trying to get on schedule,” Ian Happ said. “You come back, you’re trying to get the right amount of sleep and hydration and get back on a normal schedule. That’s all part of it.”
The Cubs were off on both Thursday and Friday before playing Saturday and Sunday in London. After Sunday’s game, they took an 8-hour flight back to Chicago and were off again on Monday.
“I think we’re still going through it, if I’m being honest,” Ross said. “We’ve got the next couple days to try to see how things continue to shake out. Listen to the players, how they’re feeling, what you see within their performance and try to do the best we can to take care of that.”
The Cubs are finding ways to get their players rest over the next few days, pushing back the time they have to report to the field and adjusting batting practice schedules.
On Tuesday, batting practice was optional for the Cubs — especially given the air quality conditions in Chicago.
Stay safe, Chicago!— CDPH | Chicago Department of Public Health (@ChiPublicHealth) June 27, 2023
Air quality in Chicago is now at an unhealthy level due to wildfire smoke from Canada. Limit your exposure by avoiding strenuous activities and shortening your time outdoors.
Watch for more updates and guidance: https://t.co/ZEv9ZFxa79#AirQuality pic.twitter.com/gSkeXojGtW
Cubs players said after Tuesday’s game that they didn’t feel the effects of the smoke physically but they’ll know more about how they feel in the coming days.
“You smell it, you taste it,” Happ said. “Just go out and play baseball and try and forget about it once you’re out there.”
Ross and his coaching staff knew this tough stretch awaited the Cubs when they got back from London and had already mapped out lighter days leading up to the All-Star Break.
“We’ll play it by ear,” Ross said. “Definitely, one off-day after that kind of trip is not all of a sudden everybody is back to normal. I think everybody feels a little bit differently and is able to sleep a little bit differently.
“Try to listen to how everybody’s doing and I’ll set things up accordingly.”
The Cubs were on a hot stretch before London, compiling a 10-2 record and winning 4 straight series against playoff-hopefully teams in the Giants, Pirates (twice) and Orioles. That run helped the Cubs claw their way back in the division and they entered play Tuesday just 3 games out of 1st place.
After splitting with the last-place Cardinals in Europe, the Cubs now play host to the Phillies and then the Guardians at Wrigley Field.
From there, they hit the road for a big 4-game series in Milwaukee against a Brewers team that woke up Tuesday morning in 1st place. The Cubs close the first half with a 3-game set against the Yankees in New York.
“The next two weeks are gonna be really important,” Ross said. “We just gotta continue to focus on the things we’ve done well and continue to play our brand of baseball. We play some really good teams.
“Gonna need to play good all the way up through the Yankees and hopefully go into the All-Star Break with a little bit of momentum. Hopefully we can carry this through the next 13 games. That’d be really nice.”
Ross delivered that same message to his team in a meeting before Tuesday’s game.
The Cubs have a lot of young players in the clubhouse but they also added a lot of veterans this winter with World Series rings, including Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger and Trey Mancini.
“Obviously the schedule is just a little different,” Bellinger said. “We know as a unit, as team, these next games are important for sure.
“It’s very important [to come together as a group and talk things out]. That’s what we do really well here — the coaching staff, the players. A lot of really solid talks. That’s why we’ve stayed afloat and been playing really good baseball.”