The Cubs will begin their 2014 season with an Interleague tour de force that includes series against some of this season's toughest teams.
Chicago opens on the road against the Pirates, before returning to Wrigley Field for series against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Then the Cubs will head back on the road for trips to Busch Stadium and Yankee Stadium.
Of their first six series (three on the road, against the Pirates, Cardinals and Yankees (May 15-16); and three at home, against the Phillies, Pirates and Reds), five come against teams in contention for playoff spots this season. That includes the top three teams in the NL Central.
"Starting in Pittsburgh, that's kind of odd to start in Pittsburgh two years in a row. That's what it is," manager Dale Sveum said before Tuesday's game against the Reds. "The schedule is the schedule. A lot of off-days in strange areas again. This year we didn't have any in April and next year we're going to have probably too many. That's what it is, that's how the computer kicks it out."
The 2014 Major League Baseball schedule was unveiled on Tuesday, and the season kicks off in Australia, as the Dodgers and D-backs will open the year in Sydney on March 22-23. The first scheduled ballgames played stateside will come Monday, March 31, with the likelihood of one being added to the books for the previous day.
Chicago's season opener is set for March 31, at PNC Park, with a game time to be determined. The teams will then take a day off before resuming the season-opening series on Wednesday, April 2.
Interleague Play will again be spread across the season, with the first series coming against the Yankees from April 15-16 in New York. Other American League opponents for the Cubs next season include the Rays, Orioles, Red Sox and Blue Jays.
"That's obviously the toughest division in baseball," Sveum said of the AL East. "Toronto's record is not what it could be, that team could still be really good next year having [Jose] Reyes every single day. It makes the division even tougher. You can say what you want, but you can't predict divisions, how good they're going to be. Just like the American League guys that got stuck with the National League Central this year. Three of the best teams in all of baseball are in one division. But you can never predict any of that. We do know one thing, usually the American League East is a pretty strong division."
The annual crosstown series against the White Sox will be played May 5-6 at Wrigley Field and May 7-8 at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Cubs wrap up the season on the road with a three-game series against the Brewers from Sept. 26-28.
Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak.