Most athletes will express the importance of getting off to a fast start. While there are certainly instances of teams that don’t start well, yet finish fine in the end, the general rule of thumb is to come out of the gate strong. At the very least, give yourself a respectable showing. While most all reports and opinions have the Chicago Cubs finishing at or towards the bottom of the NL Central, their first month will give them a chance to surprise people. Conversely, it will give them an opportunity to prove all of these reports and opinions completely correct. In fact, the Cubs have an extremely difficult first month of the season.
The schedule starts with the Washington Nationals –a team long suspected of being a player or two away from beginning to flex some serious muscle. While the NL East is a dangerous place to have to play these days, the Nationals seem poised to compete and perhaps even have an outside shot at competing for the division. The Cubs then have a four-game series against the defending NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers. Despite the most-likely absence of Prince Fielder, the Brewers still have a formidable team. The pitching –which put up gaudy numbers last season — is relatively intact. The offense added Aramis Ramirez at third base. I imagine they’ll be competing for another division title.
To round out the month, the Cubs have six games with the St. Louis Cardinals, three with the spend-happy Miami Marlins, three with the “we-want-to-win-now” Cincinnati Reds, and four against perennial contender, Philadelphia Phillies.
The Cubs aren’t expected to do much this season. And while I’m excited to watch the “new Cubs” begin their journey (even if that means a dreadful 2012), I am inclined to agree that they won’t be there come September. While it’s certainly not impossible (nothing in sports seems to be), it’ll more than likely be the case. If, on the off chance, the Cubs surprise us all and are more together than we’re giving them credit for, they’ll have a chance to make a statement early. We don’t know how good any of the above mentioned teams are going to be, but I know all of them look pretty darn good on paper: A defending World Series champion (St. Louis), two division champions (Milwaukee, Philadelphia), two upstart franchises (Miami, Washington), and one slightly desperate team that plans to contend (Cincinnati).
It looks like we’ll have a pretty good idea of what the rest of the 2012 season will look like for the Cubs after they play their harsh April schedule. If they contend in April, we might be in for a surprise. If they don’t, our suspicions of a tough, less-than-miraculous year will be confirmed.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, having lived in Illinois his entire life and having followed the Cubs and the MLB throughout.