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When the Diamondbacks visited Wrigley Field to start a four-game set last week, they were going up against a Cubs team that was at the peak of its hot streak. They were 12 games above .500 after finishing off a sweep of the Giants. They had won 17 of their last 25 games dating back to Aug. 9, which was also the last time they’d lost a series (and only one of two series losses in the second half at that point).
The Cubs were quickly climbing the standings, sitting just 1 1/2 games back of both the Brewers in National League Central and the Phillies for the top NL Wild Card spot. And with Arizona in town, they were getting another shot at putting more space between them and a team also in the Wild Card mix.
“We’ve got a chance to kind of put teams in our rearview if we can, right? And when you do that against a really good team that’s chasing you, it’s a good feeling,” Cubs manager David Ross said following the sweep of San Francisco.
Obviously, things haven’t worked out that way.
The Cubs dropped the first three games of that D-Backs series before avoiding a sweep with a win on Sunday. They then lost two of three in Colorado to the Rockies, who sit at the bottom of the NL. And following a 6-4 loss to open the series in Arizona on Friday, the team’s funk continues.
Now look, the season isn’t over for the Cubs. Ross’ group has proven to be resilient time and time again this season. Whether it was clawing their way back from a five-run, mid-game deficit on the South Side on July 26 or clawing their way back from 10 games below .500 to convince the front office to buy at the trade deadline, they’ve proven nobody should count them out.
Not to mention the fact that, even after Friday night’s loss, the Cubs (78-70) still hold the second NL Wild Card spot by 1 1/2 games (though they’re now 5 1/2 back of Milwaukee in the division). But with only 14 games left in the regular season, a playoff spot is certainly not guaranteed if they can’t turn things around.
On Friday, the offensive struggles the road trip has brought continued. Only one of the four starters they’ve faced this week had a sub-5.00 ERA (Ty Black at 4.58 on Wednesday) going into each game, yet all of four held the Cubs to three runs or fewer over five-plus innings. Friday’s starter for the Diamondbacks, Brandon Pfaadt (6.25 ERA), gave up just four hits and a walk across 5 1/3 scoreless innings. From being unable to add onto leads to baserunning mishaps to an inability to get much offense going, this week has just not gone right offensively for the Cubs.
Not that it’s been much better on the pitching side, either. Only Jordan Wicks on Monday has managed to throw a quality start. Javier Assad and Jameson Taillon allowed a combined seven earned runs in 8 1/3 innings in the two losses at Coors Field. And even Justin Steele, who’s currently in the thick of the NL Cy Young race, had one of his worst starts of the year Friday, giving up six earned runs (his most in a single outing in 2023) in six innings.
A taxed bullpen, still missing Adbert Alzolay for at least another nine days, did get a reinforcement with the return of Marcus Stroman, who tossed two innings of scoreless relief behind Steele.
Stroman hadn’t pitched since July 31. He originally went on the injured list with right hip inflammation, but he suffered a right rib cartilage fracture that extended his stay on the IL until Friday. With little time left in the season, the Cubs have opted for now to bring Stroman back as a reliever — which, according to what he told reporters in Arizona on Friday, he’s perfectly fine with.
That team-first mentality is certainly shared throughout the clubhouse. The front office kept the group together and gave it a shot to complete the playoff push after the trade deadline. Now, making the postseason is the priority, but a stretch like they’ve experienced over the last week has trimmed their margin for error.
Yes, if the season ended Friday, the Cubs would be playoff-bound. Unfortunately for them, there are still 14 games to play, and with every defeat, they’re losing their grip on a postseason spot.
A quick turnaround, then, could help them salvage the last two games of the series in Arizona — and it might even save their season.
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