PITTSBURGH — What a difference a month makes.
The Cubs were reeling the last time they left Pittsburgh in April and after dropping two of three games against the bottom-feeder of the NL Central, appeared to be headed toward some serious changes this summer if things did not improve.
But seven weeks later, not only did they take care of business with a sweep of the Pirates, but the team’s outlook has also started to change as they continue to trend upward.
“These guys kind of found who they are and kind of settled into the season after what went on last year,” manager David Ross said. “I think I think we figured some things out as well. I think you know, some things have gotten settled down in the bullpen and the starters have gotten back to who they are. I mean, it really is a complete turnaround in almost every area.”
The Cubs are now tied for first place in the NL Central and despite not being at full strength health-wise, they’ve now gone 15-7 in May and won six of their last seven series.
When the team returns to Chicago, they’ll be greeted by the largest crowd at Wrigley Field since September 2019, as the team will increase capacity to 60%.
“It’s fun,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said at PNC Park. “Even with the capacity we’ve had [at 25%] it’s been a huge difference from last year. And I think 60%, there’ll be a ton of buzz in there.”
The increase in capacity means an increase in revenue, and after being in wait-and-see mode to determine the team’s financial situation, the larger crowds create some new possibilities.
The Cubs have been viewed as a potential seller since the offseason and as things currently sit with MLB trade season approaching, they may be in a position to be a buyer, if the team’s success continues.
“As far as flexibility, I think we’ve had these projections for a little bit and feel like we’re a bit ahead of schedule,” Hoyer said. “I think there’s definitely flexibility to make moves in-season if the right thing presents itself.”
The Cubs have played their best baseball of the season over the last four weeks and now sit a season-high five games over .500 with June just a few days away.
And with some of the team’s recent injuries and now seeing their weaknesses, the Cubs have some areas of need where they could look to improve with an addition.
The last season’s impact on the revenue around the game has been well-documented with few teams doing much in terms of spending. But with most MLB parks at least 50% capacity, the financial outlook has come as a surprise.
“I think everyone in baseball probably is a little bit,” Hoyer said. “I think that the vaccine rollout probably went a little better than everyone anticipated, and therefore, increased capacities are probably moving a little faster than we had anticipated, which is a great thing. And so yeah, I think it’s fair to say we’re a little bit ahead of schedule with those [financial] projections.”
As things currently stand, the Cubs are now heavily in the thick of things in the NL Central. Each team in the division has a strength, but they’re also flawed, which may be an added benefit for the Cubs.
While the Cubs’ upcoming series against the Reds and NL West-leading Padres next week with a west coast trip looming next week, there’s no denying their groove right now. With a few players returning from the injured list in the coming weeks, it’s not unrealistic to see the Cubs pick their lane if the good baseball continues.
“We’re playing with an edge right now,” Ross said. “That comes from confidence. That comes from guys executing in the moment and coming through. … All the areas of importance have picked up.”