Cubs schedule toughens as they enter the final month of the season

CHICAGO – When playing a game that features many twists, turns, oddities, and variables, there are very few things that are considered easy.

But when the Cubs had seven consecutive games at home at the end of August against two teams near the bottom of the league, there is a confidence that a few more wins could be on the way. Indeed that was the case at Wrigley Field over the past week as the Cubs swept away the last place Reds in a four-game series then took two-of-three from the floundering Mets.

It was good stretch to build up some good vibes while extending their advantage over the Cardinals to 4 1/2 games in the NL Central. But stretches like this, where the competition is playing for pride instead of place, doesn’t last, and indeed things pick up as the final month of the season commences.

Exactly one month from Thursday the Cubs will end their regular season at home against the Cardinals, one of a few series the Cubs have coming up against teams still holding onto hopes of earning a postseason berth.

It starts Thursday when the Cubs make up a rained out contest from May in Atlanta, who currently hold a 3 1/2 game lead over the Phillies for first in the NL East. That’s where the Cubs are heading next for the weekend as they play a trio of games in Philadelphia, though they won’t face former pitcher Jake Arrieta in any of the contests.

Three games then follow with the third place Brewers starting on Labor Day before a trip to Washington for four games to face the Nationals, who’d love to spoil the Cubs hopes in what has been an underachieving year for the franchise.

Milwaukee comes to Wrigley Field for a three-game series starting September 10th. The NL West-leading Diamondbacks are on the schedule for a trio of games in Phoenix September 17-19. Then it’s the second leg of the city series with the White Sox, a four-game series with the Pirates, and a three-game set with the Cardinals at Wrigley Field to end the season.

Not a lot of breaks in there for the Cubs, but Anthony Rizzo doesn’t mind it. If the Cubs are going to success in the postseason, this stretch provides a good idea of what to expect.

“We’re playing a lot of good teams that we could see potentially in the first or second round of the playoffs, so it’s good to see them later in the season,” said Rizzo off the schedule. “Kind of gauge them – Philly, Braves, the Brewers, the Cardinals. We got out to Arizona, we’re gonna see them. We’ve just got to play good baseball.

“It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s starting to creep through, so just staying focused is big.”

They’ve done so in August even with the dip in competition level at times. They’re 17-9 with two more games to go in the month and in the process have increased their division lead by 3 1/2 games from what it was at the end of June.

Another month like that and the Cubs are headed to the postseason for a fourth-consecutive time, which would be a franchise record.

“It’s a good place,” said Zobrist of the Cubs’ position heading into August. “We felt like we’ve got the pitching going really strong and the offense has come along. Whenever you get both of those things going, good things happen, and we’ve seen a lot of that recently.”

One more month of is, and October will be another month of action at the Friendly Confines.