Milwaukee Brewers

Cubs release 2020 schedule with some interesting changes

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USA TODAY

Cubs release 2020 schedule with some interesting changes

Mark your calendars now for March 26, 2020, when the Cubs will open up a brand new season of action in Milwaukee against the division-rival Brewers.

Major League Baseball released all the tentative schedules for next year and the Cubs will cross off both openers before the first of April — the home opener is slated for March 30 against the Pirates, so roughly a 40 percent chance of snow baseball. 

Frigid temperatures at Wrigley for early-season games aren't new, but this is the first time ever the Cubs will open a season in Milwaukee. 

The Cubs also are making some big changes with the games at Wrigley Field, as every weeknight contest before Memorial Day and after Labor Day will start at 6:40 pm now. That pushes first pitch up 25 minutes during the school year (which could also help if weather is an issue for early-season games). 

Here are some other notable games on the Cubs' 2020 schedule:

—The Cardinals' first trip to town comes April 10-12 for a three-game weekend series at Wrigley Field. Milwaukee isn't in Chicago until May 11-13 for a mid-week series. 

—The Cubs play the AL East in Interleague matchups in 2020 and that includes a visit from the Boston Red Sox to Wrigley Field in June (19-21). The Red Sox haven't played at the "Friendly Confines" since 2012.

—The Cubs also host the Tampa Bay Rays July 3-5 and have a home-and-home series with former coach Brandon Hyde and the Orioles (in Baltimore April 14-15, in Chicago June 2-3).

—The AL East tour also includes a trip to the Bronx to play the Yankees (June 26-28) and a series north of the border against the Toronto Blue Jays (Aug. 14-16). 

—The Crosstown series will once again be a four-game set, with two games at Wrigley July 20-21 and two games on the South Side (July 7-8). 

—The Cubs finish the year with 10 of their final 12 games at home, including yet another season-ending series with the Cardinals — this time at Wrigley Field Sept. 25-27. 

—The Cubs also play the Cardinals in London June 13-14 and have a pair of off-days before that series plus another one after.

—As far as off-days are concerned, the breaks seem to be spread out more evenly for the Cubs in 2020 compared to this year. The breakdown by scheduled off-days per month:

March: 1
April: 3
May: 3
June: 4
July: 3 (plus All-Star Break)
August: 3
September: 3

Here is the complete 2020 regular season Cubs schedule:

'He has a force field around him': How Javy Baez's creativity continues to spark Cubs offense

'He has a force field around him': How Javy Baez's creativity continues to spark Cubs offense

At this point, nobody's surprised when they see Javy Baez pull his "El Mago" act. 

Amazing play in the field? That's old hat. Swim move slide? C'mon, that's so 2017. Lightning-quick tag? Yawn. 

OK, "yawn" is a complete exaggeration because it never gets old to watch Baez's extreme athleticism. But at some point — years ago — that all had to be added to the scouting report when teams would play Baez and the Cubs, right?

So how does the 2018 NL MVP runner-up continue to force opponents into making so many mistakes on the bases? 

"He has a force field around him, that's the thing," Ian Happ said. "Every time he's on the bases, he seems to get guys to make mistakes and that's because everybody knows he's such a good baserunner. Everyone knows the impact he has — they try a little harder when he's on the bases because you know he can make something like that happen and it forces guys into making mistakes."

Baez — who just celebrated the five-year anniversary of his MLB debut — has shown exactly what Happ is talking about over the last week. 

There was Saturday, when he hustled out of the box on a second-inning liner down the right field line and coasted into third with a triple when Christian Yelich couldn't corral the ball perfectly off the wall. A few pitches later, Baez sprinted home when a ball squirted only a couple feet away from Milwaukee catcher Manny Pina, leading to the Cubs' first run:

It was also the Cubs' only run until the seventh inning of the tightest game of the weekend series and it only occurred because Baez singlehandedly made something happen for his team.

Then there's twice where Baez forced the opposition into making an error on a stolen-base attempt: last Friday against Milwaukee and last Wednesday in St. Louis.

He didn't come around to score on Friday, but the Wednesday incident led to a huge insurance run for the Cubs. In a 1-0 game, Baez danced far off second base and baited Cardinals catcher Matt Wieters into throwing behind him. St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong tried to rush and catch the short-hop in a position to try to throw out Baez at third, and instead missed Wieters' throw and Baez coasted home with some all-important eighth inning breathing room for a team that has struggled to win on the road.

"It's huge," Happ said. "He's a one-man show out there where if he's hitting or if he's on the bases, he can create a run by himself. I was hitting in St. Louis when he did that. He was on second base and I was all excited about driving him in and he got himself home without me even having to swing the bat.

"The stuff that he can do like that to jumpstart the offense and give us instant production without really having to get too many more hits — that's huge."

The Cubs offense has certainly looked better lately — Happ and Nicholas Castellanos are huge reasons why. But it's a small sample size — Happ probably won't post an OPS over 1.000 and Castellanos probably won't hit near .400 for the rest of the season.

But what Baez can do as a "one-man show" can help steal a run here and there for an inconsistent offense, especially as they embark on a crucial road trip in desperate need of better play away from Wrigley Field.

"He's done that for years and it does provide a lift," Joe Maddon said. "Today's game is frowning upon that Three-Musketeerism on the bases — nobody wants to make outs on the bases and there's not a lot of speed in the game per team, so that's part of what's missing. I agree. It'd be nice to have more people in your group that's capable of doing things like that."

Baez only has 9 stolen bases on the season, but he's been plagued by a right heel injury since late May and he's way too valuable to the Cubs to risk injury by running on a consistent basis. However, he doesn't always need to steal a base to help the Cubs with his "force field" approach to running the bases.

"I know when I get on base, the pitcher and catcher and pretty much the whole team is paying attention to what I'm gonna do or what I'm doing," Baez said. "I just keep my head up and see where the ball is gonna go and see what the plan we got against a pitcher. I always try to advance on base or more if I can."

Cubs add some catching depth in the form of Jonathan Lucroy

Cubs add some catching depth in the form of Jonathan Lucroy

The Cubs are adding a veteran catcher to the mix in the form of Jonathan Lucroy.

Lucroy, 33, was designated for assignment last week and after he cleared waivers, the Angels released him, officially making him a free agent as of Wednesday afternoon. The team confirmed the move after the 10-1 win over the A's, sending Taylor Davis back down to Triple-A Iowa to create room on the roster.

Lucroy is expected to be available for the Cubs Thursday in Cincinnati as they begin an 11-day, 10-game road trip. 

"I've heard a lot of wonderful things about him," Joe Maddon said. "He adds that veteran mix behind the plate that I think is really important, especially this time of the year. ... He can swing the bat. He knows what he's doing back there. Cole Hamels played with him in Texas, for example, and he spoke very highly of him, too. 

"So we're really excited to get a player of that caliber right now with everything that's going on for us. We're pretty fortunate."

The Cubs needed some more catching for the stretch run after Willson Contreras injured his hamstring in Saturday's game. The two-time All-Star starter underwent an MRI Monday and is looking at a four-week timeline. This is the same injury he had in August and September of 2017 when he missed about a month.

Lucroy signed with the Angels over the winter on a one-year, $3.35 million deal but since he was released, the Cubs would not have to cover the prorated portion of that contract. With this being the first year of no August waiver trades around Major League Baseball and Contreras' injury coming just after the July deadline, the Cubs' options were limited at adding another backstop from outside the organization, but it worked out in their favor that Lucroy hit the market.

The veteran missed most of July after suffering a concussion on a brutal collision with Houston's Jake Marisnick at home plate:

He returned from the injured list July 31 and played one game before being designated for assignment.

Lucroy hit .242 with a .681 OPS, 7 homers and 30 RBI in 74 games in L.A. and it's been a little while since he was above average offensively (even for a catcher). He made the All-Star team with the Brewers in 2016 and was traded to the Rangers in the middle of that year, finishing with 24 homers, 81 RBI and an .855 OPS. 

Back in 2014, Lucroy led the NL with 53 doubles and finished fourth in MVP voting with Milwaukee.

Lucroy doesn't strike out much at the plate and could form a nice platoon with Victor Caratini, whom the Cubs prefer to face right-handed pitchers. Lucroy also provides more depth and a veteran presence who has been to the postseason four times.

He already comes with some experience with the Cubs pitching staff, as he's already logged more than 100 innings behind the plate for three Cubs pitchers — Hamels (111), Yu Darvish (129.1) and Brandon Kintzler (132.1). In fact, no catcher has worked more with Kintzler in-game and only one other catcher (Geovany Soto) has been behind the plate more in Darvish's MLB career.

Regardless of how he hits, he figures to be a valuable addition to help manage the pitching staff and give the Cubs experience at the most important defensive position in the middle of a tight playoff race. Plus, it's added protection against injury, as Caratini has taken a couple of dings to his wrists/forearms in recent games.

"Obviously a guy who's been around for a long time, has a lot of history against the Cubs. Glad to bring him over here and have him come in and get his perspective on a lot of things and win some ballgames," Kyle Schwarber said.

Given Contreras' timeline, he probably wouldn't return before Sept. 1 when rosters expand, so the Cubs could conceivably work him back slowly with Caratini and Lucroy still on the roster.