Cubs

Cubs rally behind Pierce Johnson and Taylor Davis for Joe Maddon's charity event

Cubs rally behind Pierce Johnson and Taylor Davis for Joe Maddon's charity event

MESA, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's "Respect Bald" event is always a good time for Cubs fans, but the players within the clubhouse made it a must-see production in 2017.

Maddon's charity event helps raise money to support pediatric cancer research and the usual suspects were out in full force this year to get their heads shaved — Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Matt Szczur.

The clubhouse took it to the next level by getting pitcher Pierce Johnson and catcher Taylor Davis — the two guys with the longest hair on the team — to shave their heads:

The Cubs actually started a pool to get the two players to abandon their flow game, with Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta among the guys pushing the pot the hardest.

"I was very nervous, to say the least," Johnson said. "It was really fun. The build-up for all of this was the funnest process for me. The pot just kept getting bigger and bigger. They just kept throwing money out there.

"It was really too hard to say no. It's fun to be a part of."

Of course, Johnson and Davis had a chance to decline and maintain their impeccable locks, but it was "too hard to say no with that kind of pot out there."

Davis' pot climbed to $27,000 while Johnson's peaked at $17,000. Maddon said the Cubs players donated more than $50,000 on top of the donations from coaches, fans and others.

"It's cool, especially when you get the cancer survivor to come over and sit next to you. It gives you purpose," Davis said. "It's invigorating. 

"We wanted to raise as much money as we possibly could and I think we accomplished that. It's a pretty good paycheck for this foundation and it's well worth every second."

Johnson and Davis have been growing their hair out since 2013 and Johnson joked he's going to need a lot of sunscreen because his neck hasn't seen the sun in four years.

The after for Johnson:

And here's Davis after four years without a haircut:

This wasn't on either guy's radar coming into camp and it wasn't an easy decision, but it became easier as the charitable pot grew, Johnson said.

Rizzo and Schwarber got in on the action, too:

And then the scariest part of the morning — Clark the Cub took up the clippers to shave Munenori Kawsaki's head:

Cubs early schedule is favorable, but watch out for divisional games

Cubs early schedule is favorable, but watch out for divisional games

With only 60 games this season, getting off to a good start is imperative for any team's postseason chances. That sentiment is especially true for the Cubs, based on how their schedule lines up to start the season.

The Cubs and Cardinals have the second easiest schedules through Aug. 6, based on their opponents' 2019 winning percentages (.445). The Reds (.437) have the easiest schedule through that stretch.

In those 14 games the Cubs play the Brewers (three times), Reds (four), Pirates (three) and Royals (four). They then play St. Louis three times before their first scheduled day off (Aug. 10).

The context, of course, is Reds — a thorn in the Cubs' side last season — improved their roster immensely over the winter. Cincinnati added outfielder Nick Castellanos (Cubs) third baseman Mike Moustakas (Brewers), starter Wade Miley (Astros) and outfielder Shogo Akiyama (Japan) in free agency following a 75-87 2019 campaign. They also have a formidable rotation featuring Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Miley.

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Besides Moustakas, Milwaukee lost another cog to their 2019 lineup to free agency in catcher Yasmani Grandal (White Sox). Also gone is first baseman Eric Thames (25 homers last season), who joined the Nationals in free agency.

As has been the case in recent seasons, there are questions about Milwaukee's starting rotation. They dealt Zach Davies to the Padres and Chase Anderson to the Blue Jays, adding Erik Lauer (trade with San Diego), and Josh Lindblom (Japan) and Brett Anderson (A's) in free agency. 

Milwaukee is still a competitive rival and has proven doubters wrong by making back-to-back postseasons. Their bullpen is solid and they're still led by 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich.

Pittsburgh and Kansas City are still in rebuild mode, but lest we forget the Pirates were 44-45 at the All-Star break last season and in the thick of the NL Central race. A 60-game season is a crapshoot, and it would be foolish to take any opponent lightly.

No matter what any team did last season, 2020 is unique and unlike anything we've seen. Even with these factors, the Cubs need to get off to a good start to assert themselves in the race to October (should we get there, COVID-19 contingent).

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Cubs 2020 MLB schedule: 5 AL Central stars fans need to know

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USA Today

Cubs 2020 MLB schedule: 5 AL Central stars fans need to know

MLB announced the full 60-game regular season schedule on Monday evening, so we finally have the who, when and where down for the unique 2020 campaign.

We also know pretty well how the Cubs stack up their division rivals, since the teams are so familiar with themselves. But what about that other Central division? The one that’s used to the DH? In 2020, the Cubs will face the A.L. Central teams more regularly, when they typically only play against them every few years. So who are the big names Cubs fans gotta keep an eye on when they take the field?

Here are the Top-5 stars from the A.L. Central the Cubs will play this year