CHICAGO -- One of the goals for the Cubs going into this season was to get off to a fast start. That would have helped a mostly unchanged roster show it still had a World Series-caliber core and potentially stave off a possible makeover at the Trade Deadline.
Now, there is no other choice but to get off to a fast start in a season that will be more sprint than marathon. MLB announced last week that the regular season will consist of 60 games, which will put a premium on each victory, especially for a Chicago team that is trying to balance winning now with planning for the future.
• Play Ball: MLB announces 2020 regular season
“I do think getting off to a good start is going to be important for us mentally,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said on Monday. “It’s roughly the time you have after the [Trade] Deadline every year and you can't treat it like a dead sprint. We're going to have to have some patience.
“Every game is very important, but at the same time, we're still playing for two months and there's going to be some ups and downs.”
Last season, the Cubs were 34-26 and in first place in the National League Central after the first 60 games. The 2019 squad's best 60-game stretch was a 37-23 run from April 6-June 12. Injuries and other issues contributed to a midsummer slide, and a nine-game losing streak in September knocked Chicago off the October stage for the first time since 2014.
With new manager David Ross at the helm, the Cubs were already entering a new era before the COVID-19 crisis led to perhaps the most unique season in MLB history. While details are still being hammered out about the coming campaign, here is some of what we know right now about Chicago's situation.
• FAQ: All you need to know about 2020 season
“Some of the things I talked about [were] respect and trust,” Ross said Monday, referring to his message to the team prior to the season’s pause in March. “For us to come to work every day, we have to trust that our teammates and the staff and the group that we're around is adhering to the protocols. It's important now more than ever.”
When will camp start, and where?
Players are starting to travel to Chicago to report to camp by Wednesday. Beginning Friday, the Cubs plan on holding their workouts at Wrigley Field, with Class A South Bend serving as the team’s alternate training site. The Cubs revealed their initial 50-player pool (out of 60 allowed in total) on Sunday. As of now, there will be 11 players heading to South Bend, Ind.
When is Opening Day?
The regular season is anticipated to begin on July 23 or 24.
Which teams will be on the schedule?
The plan is for teams to stay within their own regions to enhance safety and decrease travel, meaning the Cubs would face foes from the NL Central and American League Central. While the schedule has not been announced yet, the plan would call for 40 games within the division (10 apiece vs. the Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds) and 20 against AL Central foes.
Hoyer said the Cubs “fully expect” to have three exhibition games before the outset of the regular season. Nothing has been announced on that front, but the crosstown-rival White Sox would be a logical opponent. More information is expected to come after MLB announces the 2020 schedule.
How are the Cubs' injured players doing?
The Cubs were enjoying a relatively healthy spring when the COVID-19 crisis brought things to a halt. Non-roster invitee Brandon Morrow -- who missed 2019 due to injuries -- was slowed in February and March by chest and calf setbacks, and he is not expected to factor into the abbreviated '20 picture.
Left-hander Brad Wieck, who underwent a heart procedure in February, was able to recover over the past few months and should be “ready to go,” per Hoyer. The Cubs will be assessing other players during the first few days of camp and will provide any relevant injury updates.
What are some competitions to watch when camp resumes?
When Spring Training ended in March, the Cubs were still weighing how to approach the final bullpen spot or two, figuring out who would get the bulk of the at-bats at second base and considering bench options with the new 26th man in mind. Most, if not all, of those competitions might be effectively ended with the extra roster spots at the start of the 2020 season.
How will rosters be different? How will those changes affect the Cubs?
The plan is to begin the season with a 30-man roster, though that will be reduced to 28 after two weeks and then back to the original 26 a month into the campaign. Initially, the four extra spots should give the Cubs a chance to carry all the players who were in that second-base mix (Nico Hoerner, David Bote, Daniel Descalso and Jason Kipnis) and in the hunt for bullpen jobs. Chicago might also be able to carry a third catcher (Josh Phegley).
It will get interesting when Chicago starts closing in on the required roster reductions. The first two weeks of the season will provide a period for the Cubs to keep evaluating their second-base, bullpen and bench options, keeping in mind that every game carries more weight than usual with such a short regular season.
The ability to have extra players available outside the 40-man roster could also give the Cubs a chance to have some of their top prospects on hand. Three non-rostered prospects within the Cubs’ Top 10 by MLB Pipeline heading to South Bend are lefty Brailyn Marquez (No. 2), outfielder Brennen Davis (No.3) and infielder Christopher Morel (No. 10).
Who will serve as the designated hitter?
The easy answer would be to put slugger Kyle Schwarber in the DH role, but it's not that cut-and-dried for the Cubs. In fact, Chicago would probably benefit more from using the DH slot as a way to rotate players in and out of the lineup, especially in the name of platoon advantage. Steven Souza Jr. could see time there after coming back from a serious left knee injury. Outfielder Ian Happ could slot in at DH to keep Albert Almora Jr.'s glove in center. The Cubs could even consider using one of their catchers (Willson Contreras or Victor Caratini) as a DH to get both of their bats in the lineup. There are a lot of ways Ross can handle that slot.
• Breaking down the Cubs' options at DH
“We've got some depth in that area,” Ross said, “whether it's Kyle and Souza, or Vic and Willson and managing that dynamic. … We have a lot of options, the way our roster is set up right now.”
How can I watch the games?
The Cubs debuted their new regional sports network, Marquee Sports Network, during Spring Training. The Network has continued with a wide array of programming while baseball has been in a holding pattern, but it will finally be airing Cubs games once the season begins. Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies will be on the call, with an assortment of Cubs alum that Marquee brought on as analysts. Stream out-of-market Cubs games LIVE on MLB.TV on your favorite supported devices.
How can I listen?
The Score 670 AM remains the home of the Cubs, with Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer in the radio booth. Listen to every Cubs game LIVE online or on the go with MLB Audio.
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.