MESA, Ariz. – For all the World Series talk surrounding this spring training camp, the Cubs insist they’re not looking ahead at October.
But some admit they’re looking at least a little bit ahead, to April and May.
“My biggest [objective], it’s surviving April,” All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said Monday. “It’s not easy playing in April at Wrigley, and obviously there’s added attention. If we finish a couple games over .500 in April like we did last year, people will probably say, `Why aren’t they a better team?’ “
It’s hard to pick apart last season and reasonably suggest the team should — or could — have performed any better than 97 wins and a playoff berth on the heels of a last-place finish.
But Rizzo and others recognize the difference a warmer start in the early cold months could mean for their division-title expectations.
After the Cardinals beat the Cubs on May 5 last year, they fell to 13-12, 6 ½ games behind the eventual division-winning Cards – then outperformed St. Louis by 3 ½ games the rest of the season.
By the time they lost to the Nationals a month later, on June 5, the Cubs fell to third place, behind both St. Louis and the Pirates – then won 69 of their final 109 games to outpace both of the teams that eventually finished ahead in the NL Central.
“It’s really important that this team starts off well and weather the early storms,” said free agent newcomer Ben Zobrist, whose last game was the World Series clincher for the Royals last fall. “You’ve got to find a way to win early in the season and not get behind, because when you’re behind in June and July it’s an uphill battle.”
Said Rizzo: “We know what we’re capable of doing, and obviously we’ve got that experience underneath us from last year, and we really believe in it.
“We’re just going to have fun with it, and we know what we’re capable of, and we’re going to keep doing it.”