The Cubs have lost three of their first four games to open the season, and it hasn’t helped that the losses came as the result of bad starts, bullpen collapses, and a bout of errors. The molten sludge of collective fan reaction has cut a burning swath across various social media platforms. Panic after just four games is silly, approximately two percent of the contests this year have been played. Teams will go 1-3 countless times during a 162 game season no matter how good they are.
With all that out of the way, the Cubs really can’t afford to continue their slow start to 2019 for much longer. Theo Epstein made clear he felt his team needed a greater sense of urgency entering this season. Speaking after last season ended following a squandered division lead and quick playoff exit, the baseball boss made his views on the subject clear.
“We could have done more from Day 1 through 162 as far as a complete sense of urgency every day,” Epstein admitted back in October. “Being completely on mission every day. Showing up with that assertiveness and that edge every day to win.”
The Cubs got off to a similarly sluggish start last season, hovering around .500 the first 20 or so games before taking off. Yet those early contests would prove huge in a division that ended up in a tie.
“Sometimes divisions aren’t lost on that last day of the season when you only score one run or you don’t get it in,” Epstein lamented. “Or they’re not lost in that last week and a half when the other team goes 8-0 and you went 4-3, you needed to go 5-2.
“Sometimes they’re lost early in the season when you have an opportunity to push for that sweep, but you’ve already won two out of three and you’re just not quite there with that killer instinct as a team.”
The same factors that made the end of last season so difficult are in place again this season, so that margin for error will be just as tight if not tighter this campaign. If they were in a weaker division — looking at you, AL Central — that margin would be much larger. They could hope for some regression from the Brewers, but waiting for other clubs to save you is a risky proposition to say the least.
And as the Cubs largely stood pat over the winter, other teams in the NL Central are more formidable than in 2018. The Cardinals brought in the big bat of Paul Goldschmidt to fortify the heart of their order. Christian Yelich shows no signs of halting his transformation into prime Barry Bonds in Milwaukee. Heck, even the Reds made several upgrades this off-season, including adding Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood from the Dodgers.
The other issue from last season, a brutal schedule in August and September, is back and maybe even worse this time time around. Brett Taylor over at Bleacher Nation broke it down when it was released in January. The Cubs play on 32 of the final 34 days of the season, and that’s only as long as rain-outs don’t take those scant off days away.
That late slate includes a stretch of 18 consecutive games in early September featuring a four-game set in Milwaukee, four more in San Diego, then back to Wrigley to play Pittsburgh. At this point, you almost have to wonder what sins the Cubs committed against the MLB scheduling gods.
With these external factors looming, a slow start of any kind is the last thing the Cubs need. So while panic isn’t justified yet, the clock is ticking in a big way. Here’s hoping the wake up call is answered in the first couple of rings this year.