By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — As the Cubs roll into the dog days of summer, a favorable schedule awaits them in the final two months of the season.
After they’re down playing the NL East-leading Nationals in a three-game series this weekend at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will have 52 games remaining. Of those, 40 will be played against teams that entered Thursday under .500, including 10 against the Reds (44-63) and three games apiece against the Phillies, Giants and Blue Jays, who are also division cellar dwellers.
Entering Thursday, the Cubs had the second-easiest schedule remaining in the National League, behind only the Cardinals, according to playoffstatus.com.
For their part, the players and coaches seem to have tunnel vision when it comes to the schedule beyond the particular series they’re in. But even now in facing the Diamondbacks and then the Nationals beginning Friday, the Cubs aren’t looking at the matchups as potential playoff previews.
“Not yet,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We still have a long way to go. I think until we get to the playoffs, we don’t know how it will play out. There is still a lot of baseball to play.”
With a 14-4 start to the second half and a 2.5-game lead on the Brewers in the NL Central entering Thursday, the Cubs are looking like a playoff team for the first time this season. It’s manager Joe Maddon’s job to keep them focused on the day at hand, but he also looks ahead a bit — like to next week’s road trip to play series at Arizona and San Francisco.
“My concentration is always the August trips and time changes,” Maddon said. “I look at the August trips going the other direction. Going to Arizona it will be hot, but we will be inside.”
When informed of the favorable schedule down the stretch, Maddon resisted going down the rabbit hole.
“Zero,” Maddon responded of how much credence he puts to easier matchups on paper. “I don’t really get into that at all. You have to plan to beat everybody as much as you can. That is an easy trap to fall into. I don’t know who we play later on. All we will be concerned with is going west next week.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.