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The Cubs were really exhausted at the end of the season. The new schedule will help fix that

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Kris Bryant said he was “drained” after the NLCS.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Cubs have played more games over the last three seasons than any other team: 521 combined between the regular season and postseason. And that doesn’t even include the 35 or so spring-training games they’ve played each of those years.

So it’s no wonder Kris Bryant said this after the NLCS Game 5 loss to the Dodgers:

Bryant admitted he was exhausted at the end, no surprise since the Cubs barely got a break, between the World Series run to November last year, the parade, the celebrations and the interviews lasted right until spring, when they started up again.

“It caught up with me at the end,” Bryant said. ‘I’m pretty drained.”

He was so drained that he admitted feeling “older.” We think it was a joke but it’s hard to tell since he’s always smiling. Reminded that he’s only 25, Bryant responded that he’s on the “back side of 25.”

A day before that, Steve Greenberg at the Sun-Times quoted KB:

“I wouldn’t say emotionally or mentally,” Bryant said, “but I think physically, yeah. Obviously, some guys are tired. It has been a really long year. We’ve had some long days and stuff like that.

“But you only notice that before and after the game. During the game, there’s so much adrenaline and cheering that you don’t really notice it. But then you sit down after the game, and you’re like: ‘I feel pretty tired and beat.’ And then you’ve got to get ready to do it all over again the next day.”

The Cubs had a grueling run through the last two weeks of the regular season, playing their final 13 games without an off day. They then did have four days off before their first postseason game, but wound up having their schedule messed up when Game 4 of the division series against the Nationals was rained out. That made them play in Chicago Wednesday, October 11, in Washington Thursday, October 12 in a game that went well past midnight Eastern time, then had to fly all night to get to Los Angeles with an unscheduled stop in Albuquerque, then had to play Saturday, October 14 at Dodger Stadium.

No wonder KB felt gassed. Granted, even a well-rested Cubs team likely would have lost to the Dodgers, who clearly were the better squad.

Over the last three seasons, Joe Maddon has tried to help his team be better-rested late in the season by resting players and having more players who can play multiple positions. It’s paid off in the Cubs posting a cumulative record of 118-57 (.674) from August 1 through the end of the season over the last three years, an overall postseason record in that time of 19-17, and a World Series title.

And yet, Kris Bryant and others were exhausted.

The 2018 schedule, mandated by the new MLB/MLBPA collective-bargaining agreement to have more off days, should help.

The 162 games scheduled in 2018 are spread over 186 days, so that’s 24 off days (including the All-Star break), or an average of nearly one off day per week over the full season. That includes four in April, five in May, two in June, six in July (three of those are the All-Star break), four in August and two in September.

The Cubs would normally have one extra off day in July, as most teams are getting a four-day break. The Cubs, though, must return to Chicago to play what ESPN is billing as a “showcase” game against the Cardinals on Thursday, July 19, the only teams that have to play on that day. Fortunately, the game’s scheduled for 6 p.m. CT, so it won’t be too much of a rush for the players to get to Chicago for that game.

The new off days also provide for some real oddities in the 2018 schedule. The Cubs have just three homestands of eight games or more all season. One will be the first homestand of the year, nine games against the Pirates, Braves and Cardinals, the only one of that length all year. They’ll play eight home games — with two off days — against the Twins, Tigers and Reds in late June/early July, and then the same number after the break, two four-game sets against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks.

They’ll also have some quick road trips. A five-game road trip to Colorado and Cleveland includes an off day prior and interior. They’ll travel to St. Louis for a single road series May 4-5-6, and do the same to Kansas City August 6-7-8. These will be connected to off days, though, so at least the players will get some rest from travel, though in a 15-day span in late July/early August they will go from St. Louis to Pittsburgh to Chicago to Kansas City to Chicago. Fortunately, there are a couple of off days involved.

The Cubs have the benefit of playing 16 of their last 19 games of 2018 within the city of Chicago. They’ll host the Brewers and Reds, then travel to Arizona for three, then have an off day before returning to play at the White Sox, and then host the Pirates and Cardinals to end the regular season. Oddly, while they play all four N.L. Central division rivals at home in September, the only one they’ll play on the road that month is the Brewers.

And that brings me to another oddity of the 2018 schedule. The Cubs will play their entire road schedule against the Reds next year before they host the Reds at all. The Cubs travel to Cincinnati April 2-3, May 18-19-20 and June 21-22-23-24. The first Cubs/Reds game at Wrigley Field in 2018 isn’t until July 6.

All of this is supposed to get the team more rest, based on the off days added. We’ll see if it actually does that.

One thing the 2018 Cubs schedule has completely avoided is the dreaded Friday 1:20 p.m. game following a road trip. Of the 13 Cubs homestands in 2018:

  • 10 begin with a night game.
  • One begins on a Monday afternoon — that’s the home opener, which will follow a Sunday afternoon game in Milwaukee, so there’s no real travel/fatigue issue there.
  • One begins with a Friday 1:20 game — but following an off day. (August 10 vs. the Nationals).
  • The other homestand begins Friday, June 29 against the Twins. The Cubs website schedule shows that game as a 4:05 p.m. CT start. It follows a Thursday game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, which will be required under the new CBA to be a day game. Really, the city of Chicago should allow the Cubs to play at 7:05 that night, but 4:05 is certainly better than 1:20.

And that leads me to one more oddity of the 2018 schedule. The Cubs and Dodgers, who have met in the NLCS the last two years, will play their entire season series in an 11-day span in June: three games at Wrigley June 18-19-20, and then four at Dodger Stadium June 25-26-27-28, interrupted by the aforementioned series in Cincinnati.

Three time zones in 11 days. Nice work, schedule-makers. Hope the Cubs get enough rest on that trip — sounds like that might be a good time for a Maddon theme trip.

It’s just 107 days until the Cubs take the field for their first spring-training game. Rest up, guys. You’re going to need it.