Cubs April Baseball: A Litmus Test for Contention

It’s been said that in baseball every team will win 50 games and lose 50 games just by showing up, and it’s what you do with the other 62 that makes a difference.  The Cubs leave Pittsburgh winning their first opening series in four years, taking 2 out of 3 from the Pirates – even though Carlos Marmol reminded us that even with new team leadership in place the Cubs are still the Cubs and they’re going to keep trotting the same dead horse out onto the mound in the ninth until the Billy Goat himself rises up from the grave and personally dismisses the curse.

But I digress.

April baseball is generally regarded as almost an extension of spring training, where the games do matter and the starters are playing but there is still some rust being shaken off and the teams are figuring out who is going to be effective and who isn’t.  It’s a long season, 162 games, and while the standings have started recording no one really cares about them until the middle of June.  For the Cubs, however, the next 19 games are going to be a clear window into the ability of the team to sink or swim this season, as they’re still considered to be a year or two away from serious contention.

The schedule is as follows:

@ Braves April 5-7
Brewers April 8-10 (home opener series)
Giants April 11-14
Rangers April 16-18
@ Brewers April 19-21
@ Reds April 22-24

19 games in the next 20 days against opponents who all had winning records last year, including the defending champion Giants, and all but the Brewers went into the playoffs.  The Cubs face a tough early schedule that will set the tone for the first quarter of the season, and it is going to be very interesting to watch what happens when big, scary squads like the Giants and Rangers come to Wrigley.

Will we keep putting Marmol out into the closer spot?  Can we count on the 4th and 5th starters to keep us in ball games?  We can’t lean on Russell and Fujikawa in the bullpen every game, who else will step up and prove they can take the ball in a tight game and preserve a lead?  We’ve seen some early power from Rizzo and Schierholtz, can they keep it up?  Will Soriano find his bat?  Are we always doomed to leave runners stranded when we have the bases loaded?

We’re going to learn a lot about the 2013 Cubs and how they handle the next 19 games, and if they can manage to even split the stretch with a 10-9 or 9-10 record I think we’ll feel a little optimistic that the team has improved over last year’s 100 loss season.


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