Cubs

The Cubs have a weird June schedule

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AP

The Cubs have a weird June schedule

ST. LOUIS — Nothing may ever approach the Cubs' grueling schedule from last September, but they are once again in midst of a curious stretch on the calendar.

And it has nothing to do with the three hour and 37 minute rain delay Saturday evening in St. Louis (though that's surely an interesting way to begin this month).

Beginning with Friday's game in St. Louis, the Cubs are in the midst of a stretch where they play 34 games in 35 days. And they just got done with a stretch where they played 27 games in 28 days in May. 

One of the reasons for this current stretch is the game set to be played Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field — a makeup against Tommy La Stella and the Angels from the April 14 snowout.

But even if the Cubs were still off that day (June 3), that would've just been a pair of breathers in a five-day stretch, sandwiched around this series in St. Louis. The Cubs have only one other scheduled off-day in June (the 17th).

In total, the Cubs have just three days off from May 3 through July 4, a stretch of 63 days.

They had eight off-days (seven scheduled, one snowout) from March 28 through May 2, a stretch of 36 days.

Nobody is outright complaining about that MLB scheduling, but that's inconsistent, to be sure.

So how will the Cubs handle this tough stretch and did they learn anything from last August/September (when they were at the ballpark for 42 games in 43 days) that can help now?

"I don't want any rainouts, so if you don't have any rainouts, I just gotta be aware of giving guys days off," Joe Maddon said. "...Other than that, it's been kinda nice. We've had one rainout to contend with — we're making that up on Monday. Otherwise, it's just been flowing pretty good.

"It's just a little bit exorbitant. We had all those days off when we didn't need them and now when you do need them, you don't get 'em. That's the logic of the Major League Baseball schedule."

In hindsight, the early off-days weren't the end of the world given the unpredictable weather in April, particularly in Chicago. The Cubs had five weather postponements in April last year and another in May.

So while they didn't necessarily need six scheduled off-days (and another added on thanks to the snowout) in March and April because everybody's pretty fresh at that point, it at least gave them freedom to work with the schedule if the weather was worse.

The other good news is the Cubs will spend much of this current stretch in Chicago. When they get back from St. Louis, they'll have only 1.5 more road trips in June — a West Coast trip to Colorado and Los Angeles from June 10-16 (and then the off-day is positioned perfectly after that) and a three-game series in Cincinnati to finish the month.

So this month shouldn't be all that grueling, but it will still come with its fair share of challenges.

The Cubs already looked like they might need another bat before Javy Baez was scratched from Saturday's game with his recurring heel injury. Baez is back in the lineup for Sunday's game and playing shortstop, but this is a situation that will bear watching in the coming days and weeks.

With Ben Zobrist still away from the team and no return in sight, the Cubs went out and signed Carlos Gonzalez to a minor-league deal and the veteran can give them more options when the Cubs feel he's up to speed (Gonzalez joined Triple-A Iowa Saturday to begin playing in games).

"I'm eager to hear how he's doing as he reports," Maddon said. "In the corner outfield, he gives us another left-hander to utilize vs. a good right-handed pitcher and that's it. ... When he's able to play and he's here, you can start three significant left-handed hitting outfielders."

Gonzalez missed only about 10 days of action after he was released from the Cleveland Indians, so he may not need long to get up to speed. If — or when — he joins the big-league club, it gives the Cubs a more proven, reliable option on the roster compared to Mark Zagunis and Jim Adduci.

However, the outfield may be a bit more crowded by the time Gonzalez is ready, as Maddon already teased the possibility of Baez potentially playing more third base down the line to limit the movement on his ailing heel. On days where he starts at the hot corner and Addison Russell is at shortstop, the Cubs would move Kris Bryant to the outfield. 

The Cubs can also rest easy knowing that after a tough month of June, they'll have a rather relaxing July. They have eight off-days scheduled next month, including the All-Star Break in Cleveland.

Cubs' Adbert Alzolay complains about South Bend conditions but comments misleading

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USA TODAY

Cubs' Adbert Alzolay complains about South Bend conditions but comments misleading

Cubs right-hander Adbert Alzolay made waves on Thursday tweeting (now deleted) about the conditions for players at the club’s alternate training site, hosted at the South Bend Cubs facility.

Alzolay and the 10 other players in South Bend are eligible for this season but will remain inactive unless need arises on the big league roster. He tweeted the players make $18 a day — or $10, when accounting for “dues” the players owe, while possibly tipping clubhouse attendants.

Whether it was a miscommunication by someone with Alzolay, the actual amount the players get is $25 and no dues are deducted from that. The option to tip clubhouse attendants is up to players individually. Through Summer Camp, the 11 Cubs in South Bend will also receive two packaged meals a day at the complex.

Once the regular season starts (July 23, per MLB’s arrangement for the 60-game campaign), the alternate site Cubs will receive $50 a day in meal money, instead of what was originally proposed because the Cubs proposed higher daily meal money.

Players will receive full salaries beginning July 23, per MLB’s agreement, and minor leaguers are being paid in the meantime. Six of the 11 Cubs in South Bend are not on the 40-man roster, and they will continue receiving $400 a week. Those on the 40-man (including Alzolay) received advanced salaries, per MLB’s agreement with the MLBPA in March.

Alzolay received $30,000 from that agreement.

Additional important context is the South Bend facility is one of the best in minor league baseball — with housing for the players nearby. The players are residing at new apartments that opened in December right outside the ballpark. They aren’t being charged for those apartments through Summer Camp, and the Cubs will subsidize many of the players in South Bend once the regular season starts. 

MORE: Where Cubs could find position of strength in 2020: South Bend

Alzolay later tweeted an update on the matter.

In wake of José Quintana’s thumb injury, general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the Cubs haven’t decided if Alzolay will join the Wrigley Field training group.

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Why it matters that the Cubs bullpen is 'deeper' than David Ross expected

Why it matters that the Cubs bullpen is 'deeper' than David Ross expected

The Cubs pitching staff is staring at a block of 17 straight games to start the season. After just three weeks of Summer Camp.  

“There’s a reason why Spring Training’s so long,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Because we want to stretch it out, make sure everybody’s healthy. So, outside of the virus factor, there’s a risk-factor of injury as well.”

Expecting starting pitchers to consistently throw seven innings at the beginning of the season isn’t realistic, so pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has built in a cushion. While most Cubs starters are upping their workloads to three-plus innings this week, some middle relievers are stretching to multiple innings as well.

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Late this week, Hottovy said he expects Rex Brothers, Dan Winkler, Casey Sadler, Duane Underwood Jr. and James Norwood to throw two innings in simulated games.

“As much as it is important to get these guys going multiple innings,” Hottovy said. “It’s also important to get them the volume they need, that you would see during a regular season. So throwing a two or three inning stint and having three or four days off, it may help us in one game, but over the course of the season … we’re going to need guys to be able to bounce back.”

Those who aren’t expected to throw multiple innings will, for the most part, still work up to a batter or two over one inning.

Kyle Ryan, who was delayed by what Ross called “protocol technicalities,” is in that category. He arrived in Chicago Wednesday night, according to Ross. Ryan was scheduled to be tested for COVID-19 along with the rest of the team Thursday. He will be quarantined until the Cubs receive his tests results, as long as they come back negative.

But Hottovy still believes there’s a chance Ryan could be ready to pitch in time for opening day in two weeks.

“We still have to get our eyes on him,” Hottovy said. “I feel like there is because of the work that he’s done and what he’s had access to back home.”

Either way, the Cubs hope to avoid having him pitch in back to back games early in the season.

“I don’t think anybody,” Hottovy said, “no matter what work you’ve done, is going to be ready to go back-to-backs at least consistently and definitely not those three days in a row.”

Not even closer Craig Kimbrel. Hottovy anticipates several of those pitchers will need to fill late-inning roles due to the compact 60-game schedule.

The Cubs starting rotation may be lacking in depth, even more than the Cubs originally expected after southpaw Jose Quintana lacerated his left thumb while washing dishes. But even with swingman Alec Mills expected to join the starting rotation, Ross has been pleasantly surprised with the overhauled Cubs bullpen.

“It’s definitely deeper than I had in my mind going into it,” Ross said. “These guys have really taken it upon themselves to be in tip-top shape.”

 

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