Who are the Cubs? In the first two months of the season, there have been two answers to that question.
The Cubs stumbled out of the gate in April and didn’t look like a team that was going to be playing meaningful baseball late in the season. But after a scorching May, during which they went 19-8 behind a resurgent offense and improved starting pitching despite a crazy run of injuries, they lead the National League Central and have shown they aren’t looking to roll over.
‘‘I think we knew we had a good team starting the season, and I think when you get to prove your beliefs and have a really good month like we just had, it’s always encouraging,’’ manager David Ross said.
June will offer a new challenge. After digging themselves out of an early hole, the Cubs will play a long stretch against some of the best teams in the majors. After their three-game series against the Padres at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will face the Giants and Padres on the road before coming home to face the Cardinals. They also have road series against the Mets, Dodgers and Brewers this month.
‘‘I think anytime a team goes out to the West Coast, it’s challenging,’’ Cubs president Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘Just like it’s challenging for a West Coast team to come east. We do that twice in the next month, and it’s a real challenge for any team. It’s a real challenge for us. I think we’ll learn a lot about this team over the month of June.
‘‘To go out there and have success, that’s certainly a mark of a team that has a chance to compete in the postseason. . . . Right now, those three teams [Padres, Giants and Dodgers] in the West are certainly in the cream of the crop in the National League so far.’’
The Cubs are 12-9 against teams with winning records this season and will have to keep that level of play going this month.
‘‘When you play against the best, it’s incredible what it does,’’ hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. ‘‘Competition really brings the best out when trying to beat the best. . . . I think the guys enjoy it when they look and see who they’re facing. They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be a good one.’ ’’
It’s hard for any team to compete with a big part of its roster unavailable, but that’s the Cubs’ reality. They have 12 players on the injured list.
As Jason Heyward, Jake Marisnick, Nico Hoerner, Anthony Rizzo and Trevor Williams work their way back from various injuries, things are not going to get any easier — at least for the foreseeable future.
‘‘It’s never fun,’’ Ross said. ‘‘You want to cry uncle sometimes, but it is what we’re dealing with. . . . I’m not going to complain about it, just move through it. We’ve got some guys that are out there that I don’t think are too far away [from returning].
‘‘I feel like everybody’s pulling on the same end of the rope. Not to be cliché, but it does feel like everybody has continued to next-man-up and done a nice job. [They’re] going out there and competing and trying to win baseball games, and you feel that from our dugout.’’