Why Braves series was so important for the 2021 Cubs
The Cubs’ weekend series with the Braves proved to be a very important stretch for David Ross’ team.
It’s not just because the offense finally broke out.
Or because the Cubs had a clean bill of health throughout the weekend after COVID-19 impacted the clubhouse last week.
Or because it was a good litmus test for this team to match up against one of the best squads in the National League.
It’s more about what the weekend represented — a sign of normalcy. A chance to relax and settle in to the mindset of a marathon six-month season instead of a two-month, hair-on-fire sprint.
The Braves’ trip to Wrigley Field was a clear symbol that we’re back to a standard season in Major League Baseball after a year in which the Cubs played only Central (AL and NL) teams due to the pandemic.
After last year, it took a bit of time for everybody to get reacclimated into the usual rhythm of a 162-game season.
“You try to take last year and what you went through and take it for what it was, but when you have some things carry into this year, you still feel like you’re up against this kind of clock. We’re not,” Ross said. “It’s been nice playing the other uniform that’s over there on the other side was a great reminder of, ‘oh, we’re back to Major League Baseball and 162’ when you get to play a different division.
“I know a couple guys were commenting on that. It’s just nice to not see somebody in the Central and a different uniform. I think there’s reminders all over the place about that. We have to continue to work that way. I think that will be an easy thing as we start traveling outside of the Central.”
The players felt the initial anxiety of the first couple weeks of the 2021 season but are now settling in, knowing they have 147 games left on the schedule.
“We’re not in a sprint season anymore,” pitcher Trevor Williams said. “We’re in a season that’s 162 games and we really have to adjust our mindset as players — at least speaking personally, I have to adjust my mindset.
“It’s not gonna be 11 starts this year; it’s not gonna be 60 games this year. There’s going to be ebbs and flows to the season.”
Right now, the Cubs are only 9% of their way through the season. Last year, 15 games represented 25% of the schedule.
“I think we were kinda in the 60-game mindset in that right out of the season, you feel like you gotta do so much,” Kris Bryant said. “But this year is a normal season. It’s 162 games.”
Bryant said he did not personally feel the pressure at the start of this season and it has shown on the field as he has been the Cubs’ most consistent threat offensively.
“There are tons of protocols and stuff still in place but to an extent, it feels fairly normal in that we’re playing teams out of the division, there’s fans in the stands, we’re able to do some things that we weren’t able to do last year,” Bryant said. “To me, it really did feel just like a normal season from the get-go.
“But still, I think any time coming from last year — we got off to such a great start last year and we want to replicate that. When you have collectively a lot of people pressing at the same time, it’s not a fun situation to be in.”
The Cubs offense got beyond that “pressing” stage with Saturday’s breakout performance.
Sunday’s game didn’t go the same way in terms of results, but the lineup continued to churn out productive at-bats and they finished the evening with 10 hits. Joc Pederson and Javy Báez each had 2-hit games while Anthony Rizzo crushed a pair of homers.
Even during the early offensive slump, Ross saw an upbeat vibe and a quality work ethic in the Cubs locker room.
“We got a lot of veterans; we don’t have many young guys,” Ross said. “[We have] guys that understand the 162 dynamic and just continue to try to keep that steady heartbeat is important in this.
“Getting off to a good start is important and these guys didn’t but I haven’t seen any wavering in their kind of mental state or pressing in the clubhouse or any kind of tension around the clubhouse.”
After an off-day Monday, the Cubs will continue along with their non-Central schedule as they welcome the New York Mets to Wrigley Field for the first time since June 23, 2019.
The Cubs will also see the Braves again next week in their first trip to Atlanta since 2019.