The 23 days that could define this Cubs team, season
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DETROIT — A Monday never looked so good to the Cubs as the one this week.
‘‘Thankfully, we have this off day,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.
That was the collective sentiment in the Cubs’ clubhouse as players packed their duffels after an 11-inning loss Sunday to the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
And it had less to do with all that didn’t happen offensively during a low-wattage, four-game series than it did with all the happenings that will be packed into the next 23 days.
Thanks to one of many early-season rainouts, the Cubs embark Tuesday on the most grueling part of their schedule this season: 23 games in 23 days, including six getaway/travel days, with their lineup slumping and their starting pitching stretched as thin as it has been all season.
‘‘No one’s panicked,’’ said left fielder Kyle Schwarber, whose two solo home runs in the series against the Pirates accounted for half the Cubs’ scoring in the four days. ‘‘It’s just that we’re ready to have this off day, refocus and get ready for this next series.’’
Forget the final two weeks of pennant fever in the tightly packed National League field of contenders. The next three weeks might tell the story of the season for a Cubs team that opens its meat-grinder stretch with the best record in the NL and the Brewers and Cardinals within striking distance in the Central.
The promise of right-hander Yu Darvish rejoining the rotation during the back half of that stretch was dashed by another setback during his rehab assignment Sunday. Mike Montgomery, the Cubs’ best starter since Darvish last pitched in May, is a week into a stint on the disabled list for a sore shoulder without a firm timeline for his return. And Tyler Chatwood’s command issues looked even worse than they did before his demotion to the bullpen when he made a spot start for Montgomery on Saturday.
All of which points to the significance of the lineup quickly figuring out how to score more than a run a game again and of the guys left in the rotation staying healthy and performing up to their potential.
‘‘Hopefully this is just a little blip in the road right now,’’ manager Joe Maddon said of a group that has been outscored in eight of its nine series since the All-Star break but has managed to lose only one of those series.
The Cubs get what looks like a forgiving week to start, with the also-ran Tigers, Reds and Mets. They then will play the Braves, Phillies, Brewers and Nationals before their next day off.
‘‘This is the time where it’s going to be grind time,’’ Schwarber said. ‘‘Late August, going into September. . . . But we’ve still got the lead. We need to take this off day, relax, do what you want to do and then it’s time to take off with this thing.’’