CHICAGO (CBS) — The upcoming Chicago Cubs season will be anything but normal. Empty stadiums, contact-free celebrations, short, regional schedule… and that’s just a select list. The actual playing of games will reveal so much more that’s unique about sports in the time of coronavirus. But it will be baseball, and that certainly beats not having baseball.
Luke Stuckmeyer, CBS 2 Chicago’s sports anchor, thinks “…it’s going to feel like, for a player… one of those late-night games we sit up watching after a four-hour rain delay, where it gets to be 12 o’clock, one o’clock in the morning, and there’s 35 people left in the ballpark. I think it’s going to feel more like that. And it may feel like a combination between a Major League season and what we have in the College World Series, which is a sprint to the finish. I think it’s going to be fun.”
Even the surreal offers the potential for excitement. The 2019 Cubs stumbled to an 84-78 finish in 2019, good enough for third place in the National League Central but not good enough for the postseason. These Cubs have enough talent to extend their abbreviated season. And circumstances and scheduling may favor their veteran squad.
As Stuckmeyer notes, “David Ross (who took over for Joe Maddon as manager) just addressed this with the media recently, saying he believes that veteran players will be able to deal with the adversity. They’ve just been through it more times. They haven’t been through exactly this situation, but they’ve been through strange things that have happened through their career and been able to deal with it. Baseball players are creatures of habit. I think a veteran player can deal with it better than a young squad.”
The scheduling itself works out in the Cubs’ favor too. “The Cubs are traveling the second-fewest miles throughout the season of any team in Major League Baseball. The Brewers are number one,” said Stuckmeyer.
Whether they harness that advantage against the tough NL Central remains to be seen. But in a division where even the bottom-dwelling Pirates should be decent, it can’t hurt. The Cubs didn’t do much in free agency to improve. While they retained key players, the rotation and bullpen are still concerns. Injuries will also play a key part, given the heightened importance of each individual game.
As for the class of the division, “I think it’s the Cubs and Reds,” says Stuckmeyer. “I think the Reds are for real. Whether or not that will play out over 60 games, we’re about to find out. I think it’s the Reds and the Cubs. I would never count out the Cardinals in anything, having grown up in the Chicago area. Cubs fans know St Louis is never out.”