The Cubs will complete a series against the Mets this evening, and that’s something unusual in this year’s schedule.
Why is that? The Mets are the only team the Cubs play among the first 25 scheduled games of 2021 that they’ll play only once.
The Cubs have already played home-and-home series against the Pirates and Brewers, and this weekend they’ll welcome the Brewers for their second Wrigley series this month. (And tell me how it makes sense, schedule-makers, to have the Cubs and Brewers play nine games in April and have six of those games in chilly Chicago and only three in the indoor park in Milwaukee.) After that, it’s the Braves again, this time in Atlanta, for a four-game set. The Cubs and Braves will complete their entire 2021 season series before the end of April.
So for the first 25 games of 2021 — that’s 15 percent of the season! — the Cubs will play just four teams, the Pirates, Brewers, Mets and Braves.
The reason I’m telling you all this is that this occurrence is highly unusual. Even in the abbreviated 60-game season in 2020, where the Cubs had just nine opponents, they played six different teams within the first 25 games of the year.
The last time a Cubs team had just four opponents through approximately the first 25 games of the year (and I say “approximately” because I put a cutoff to this search if a new series started one game before Game 25) was in 1928, 93 years ago, when they played just the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates and Phillies for the first 24 games, after that beginning a three-game set with the Dodgers.
That year, the Cubs went 12-12 over those first 24 games, but finished 91-63 and just four games out of first place, perhaps presaging their 1929 pennant.
Between 1904 — when the 154-game schedule began — and 1927, Cubs teams played just four other teams within the first 24-27 games of a season nine different times. My guess is that this had more to do with train schedules in that era than anything else, since no one traveled by any sort of “charter” back then and teams’ travel was more subject to when trains were scheduled to run between league cities.
I have been wondering whether the familiarity with these teams is somehow hurting the Cubs as their offense has sputtered to life this month. It seems clear that many MLB pitchers have figured out how to pitch the Cubs, as noted in this Jesse Rogers article the other day. Could seeing the same team over and over and over within a short period of time give the advantage to Cubs opponents’ pitchers?
I suppose we’ll find out beginning April 30, when the Cubs face their fifth different team of 2021, the Reds. After that there will be a wider selection of opponents during May, including the Dodgers, Tigers, Nationals, Cardinals and Cleveland.
And... six more games against the Pirates. That’ll make 12 of the Cubs’ first 49 games against the Pirates. You’d think those would be games the Cubs could win.
I’m certainly not blaming the schedule for the Cubs’ current woes, and things have gotten better in the last couple of days. And granted, this could be making a big deal out of nothing. But it does seem strange to see the same teams over and over and over in April.