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Cubs playoff update: Wild card hopes drop after Seiya Suzuki error, loss to Braves

Ryan Avatar
September 27, 2023

That was absolutely not how Seiya Suzuki and the Cubs thought the eighth inning Tuesday night was going to end.

For a second, it looked like Drew Smyly would escape a jam when the Braves’ Sean Murphy hit a routine fly ball to the outfield. Suzuki was ready for the catch, but he later told reporters in Atlanta he momentarily lost the ball in the lights, and it sailed past his glove. Rather than the Cubs getting to the ninth with a one-run lead, they ended up losing, 7-6, after Suzuki’s error.

The outcome doesn’t end their season, but now, the Cubs have lost control of their postseason fate. And a gut-wrenching loss like that will only make it tougher to take it back with five games left to play.

Here is CHGO’s daily update on the Cubs’ postseason hopes and where things stand with the rest of the playoff contenders.

Play of the Day

Everyone’s been there. Everyone’s made a big mistake (though probably not on as big a stage as this one), and the feeling when it happens is the worst. So, everyone can empathize with Suzuki in this moment.

No, this play alone is not the sole reason the Cubs lost. The pitching staff couldn’t keep the Braves at bay with a 6-0, and the offense couldn’t tack on more in other scoring opportunities (6-for-16 with RISP, nine left on base). But if the Cubs don’t make the playoffs, this play that ultimately decided the game will be hard for fans to forget.

Quote of the Day

“I’ll reflect on [the error] tonight. Only tonight. If I dwell on it tomorrow, I’m not going to give a positive vibe to the team and I’m not going to be able to contribute to the team tomorrow” — Suzuki, through interpreter Toy Matsushita via reporters in Atlanta, on turning the page after the loss.


Even though the Brewers lost to the Cardinals, they clinched the NL Central on Tuesday with the Cubs’ loss in Atlanta. The three games between the two teams this weekend don’t matter anymore in terms of the division race. So, earning a wild card bid is Chicago’s only shot at the playoffs.

First, a reminder that there’s no more Game 163. Of the seven teams with any chance at a wild card spot, the Cubs own the tiebreaker (head-to-head record) over only the Giants and Padres, while they’d lose it to the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Reds.

Here’s how each of those seven teams fared Tuesday:

  • Cubs: Lost to the Braves
  • Phillies: Beat the Pirates
  • Diamondbacks: Beat the White Sox
  • Marlins: Game postponed vs. Mets
  • Reds: Beat the Guardians
  • Giants: Lost to the Padres
  • Padres: Beat the Giants

Philadelphia clinched a wild card bid Tuesday, and they’re now six games ahead of the Cubs in the standings. There’s no way for the Cubs to jump them for the top wild card spot anymore. Arizona also blew out the White Sox on the South Side, so they’ve moved a full game ahead of the Cubs (and without the tiebreaker, it’s more like two games at this point).

Miami’s game in Queens was rained out, so Chicago does still remain a 1/2 game above in the standings. The Cubs, though, don’t own that tiebreaker, either. They’ll need some good fortune in the Marlins/Mets doubleheader Wednesday to help them stay in playoff position. Cincinnati, San Francisco and San Diego are all still multiple games back in the race.

The Cubs no longer hold control over their postseason destiny, so they need to not only stack up wins but hope for some help from teams across the league to get to October.


Tuesday’s brutal loss wasn’t how the Cubs needed to begin the last road trip of the year. They now must win the next two games in Atlanta just to take the series, before ending the year with three in Milwaukee this weekend.

Here are the remaining schedules for the other teams still mathematically in the wild card hunt:

  • Phillies: vs. PIT (2), @ NYM (3)
  • Diamondbacks: @ CWS (2), vs. HOU (3)
  • Marlins: @ NYM (3), @ PIT (3)
  • Reds: @ CLE (1), @ STL (3)
  • Giants: vs. SD (1), vs. LAD (3)
  • Padres: @ SF (1), @ CWS (3)


According to FanGraphs’ playoff projections, the Cubs’ odds at clinching a wild card spot took a steep drop to 41.8 percent entering Wednesday. Again, the Phillies clinched, so among the six teams still making the push, the Diamondbacks (89 percent) and Marlins (56.7 percent) have the best odds. The Cubs’ only other real competition is the Reds (12.5 percent), while the Giants and Padres — though not yet officially eliminated — are given 0.0 percent odds.

Today’s pitching matchup

Jameson Taillon (8-10, 5.05 ERA) got back on track with six shutout innings Friday, but that was against the NL-worst Rockies at home. On Wednesday, he’ll go up against the MLB-best Braves on the road, tasked with evening up the series and helping the Cubs get a win they badly need.

Atlanta’s two home runs Tuesday gave them 301 on the season. They’re the first team in NL history, and the third in MLB history, to hit 300 in a single year. Meanwhile, Taillon has given up 26 homers in his 144 1/3 innings of work, tied for the 15th-most among pitchers with at least 140 innings pitched in 2023. He’s allowing 1.62 home runs per nine innings (10th), and he owns a 14.1 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (16th).

The matchup between a pitcher giving up homers at a higher rate than any other season in his career and an all-time homer hitting team is less than ideal.

But Taillon has shown flashes of the guy the Cubs hoped they were signing last winter. He’s had some impressive starts, including six shutout innings three weeks ago against the Diamondbacks, the current favorite to earn the second wild card spot. And right now, his rocky season doesn’t matter. The Cubs just need him to be good enough to put them in position to win. It won’t be an easy task, but it’s what he has to do.

Atlanta will counter with Darius Vines (1-0, 4.40 ERA). Vines is the Braves’ No. 10 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, but he made his MLB debut less than a month ago. That was also his only start, as his last three appearances have come in multi-inning bursts out of the bullpen. Now back in a starting role — likely for no longer than Max Fried and Charlie Morton remain on the 15-day injured list — the Cubs hope they can do some damage against a rookie facing a playoff-contending team in the big leagues for the first time.

Tweet of the Day

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