After a long offseason of staring at the calendar, Chicago Cubs fans can finally celebrate on Monday as the team’s 2016 season officially gets underway.
With a slew of moves and deals, the Cubs have become one of the undisputed favorites to win a World Series title, but before parade planning and celebrations take place, the team has to deal with 162 grueling games over the next six months.
That process starts Monday, and with it our new weekly feature kicks off as we present the Week Ahead.
The Cubs had an interesting final week of camp in Arizona, with Anthony Rizzo belting out Adele tunes and the squad finalizing its roster for Opening Day. Javier Baez isn’t quite ready to return from an injured thumb, and so the shortstop will begin the year on the disabled list, and Matt Szczur will join the team as their 25th man.
The Cubs also had a pretty interesting week in terms of their schedule. After wrapping up their Cactus League slate on Wednesday with an emphatic 10-0 victory (including a Jon Lester home run), they travelled to Las Vegas to play two games against the New York Mets, and then they headed to Los Angeles to play the Angels in an exhibition Sunday while six MLB teams opened their regular seasons.
This Week’s Schedule:
Apr. 4 - Apr. 5: at Los Angeles Angels
The Cubs will play a brief two-game series against the Angels to start off the year, marking the first time that the team has begun the regular season against an American League opponent. The Angels will face the Cubs’ top duo of pitchers in the games, with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester scheduled to pitch in those contests.
Apr. 7 - Apr. 10: at Arizona Diamondbacks
Even though they just spent nearly two months in the Phoenix-area, the Cubs can’t seem to get enough of the desert southwest as they head back to Arizona for a four-game set against the Diamondbacks. The D’Backs have retooled significantly this offseason, adding Jean Segura and Zack Greinke to the mix, and they responded beautifully this spring as their high-powered offense ran roughshod over their opponents to notch the best record in the Cactus League.
Players to Watch:
Anthony Rizzo may have only hit .261 against the Diamondbacks in the 2015 season, but his other numbers against the team should fill Cubs fans with hope.
Rizzo racked up an impressive .370 on-base percentage against Arizona in 2015, including four extra-base hits and five runs scored. He clubbed two home runs against the Diamondbacks as well, driving in 10 RBI for the North Siders, making Arizona the only non-Central Division team that Rizzo registered double-digit RBI against.
John Lackey, who will pitch the opener against the Diamondbacks on Thursday, is another player to keep an eye on. He has only pitched against Arizona three times in his career, but he has a 2-0 record and a 1.80 ERA in those appearances.