The Cubs completed a stretch of 52 games in 55 days before the All-Star break with a 23-29 record, following an off day May 13. (It would have been “only” 51 games in 55 days if not for the snowout makeup game against the Angels June 3.)
This is clearly not optimal. Here are the off days, per month, on the original Cubs schedule. In this list, June 3 is included as a scheduled off day, and I’m including the All-Star break as off days as well.
That doesn’t seem right. It gives the team a lot of off days early, which does make some sense given iffy weather in March and April. But then there’s hardly anything in May and June, quite a bit in July, then again almost no breaks in August and September.
In this Sahadev Sharma article in The Athletic, Joe Maddon and Kris Bryant note how important rest is, not just for baseball players but for people in general:
“I mean, it’s rest,” Maddon said. “People don’t want to listen to that because it’s simple. It’s such a simple concept. If you’re more rested, you tend to do what you do better. If you’re not, you tend to do it not as good. They don’t let pilots fly too long. They don’t let bus drivers drive too long. I don’t like to drive my RV more than six or seven hours. You lose something. We all do. It’s one of those nebulous concepts where you can’t wrap your mind around it. Except it’s true.”
Kris Bryant expounded on the mental component.
“You can play through the physical tiredness,” Bryant said. “But when you’re going at it every day, getting beat up like we were before the All-Star break, it’s more of a mental grind. So I think we’re mentally rested and that’s a good thing.”
The way the Cubs played over the weekend against the Pirates showed exactly how valuable rest can be. They looked like an entirely different team than the one that had lost three of four to the same Pirates team in Pittsburgh just 10 days earlier.
It should be noted that of those 52 games noted above, 28 were on the road. The Cubs went 9-19 in those 28 games, while going 14-10 at home. This clearly indicates the value of rest, even though none of the road trips were tremendously taxing in terms of travel distance. It’s the lack of off days spaced evenly through the season that’s the issue. Compare the Cubs off-day chart above to the same for the Brewers:
The teams have the same number of off days in September, but the Brewers might be better rested by having more off days in August. They also didn’t have anything like the Cubs’ 55-day slog through May, June and early July.
I’m well aware that scheduling 15-team leagues with required interleague play every day of the year is not easy. But somehow, MLB has got to do better with things like this. It’s particularly noteworthy here that the Brewers have another advantage over the Cubs with their domed stadium, meaning they never have to worry about a postponement at home.
I’m hoping the 2020 schedule will be more balanced in terms of off days, because as Joe Maddon and Kris Bryant noted, rest is really, really important.