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Cubs playoff update: Hanging on by a thread after Atlanta sweep

Ryan Herrera Avatar
September 29, 2023

In Atlanta, the Cubs suffered just a back-breaking sweep at the hands of the Braves. There’s no other way to spin it. They really couldn’t afford to drop all three games, even against the current top seed in Major League Baseball, but that’s what happened. And now, they hit the road to end the season against the team at the top of the National League Central.

The Cubs have actually performed well against the Brewers this season, splitting the season series thus far. But the stakes are as high as possible at this point, as they sit a 1/2 game out of the NL Wild Card without a tiebreaker over the teams above them. They simply have to win this series, and a sweep seems almost necessary.

That may still not be enough, of course, because they don’t control their postseason fate. But they can’t worry about anything other than taking care of their own business these next three games. Do that, and at least they’ve given themselves a chance.

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

Every game in this three-game sweep had a costly error. For a team built on run prevention, that’s a sure-fire way to cost you games against the best team in the majors.

On Thursday, it was Ian Happ whose miscue (which you can see here at the 0:24 mark, via Marquee Sports Network) played a role in the loss. Atlanta’s Eddie Rosario led off the bottom of the second with a line drive to the left-center gap. Happ seemingly tracked it down and made the play on a slide, but the ball popped out of his glove and fell to the grass for a two-base fielding error. Had he caught it and the rest of the inning played out the same, Marcus Stroman throws a scoreless frame. Instead, the Braves were able to tack on two more runs in a game the Cubs ultimately lost by two.

Like Seiya Suzuki’s error Tuesday and Nico Hoerner’s error Wednesday, this wasn’t the sole the reason the Cubs lost. But against a team like Atlanta, you almost have to play perfect baseball, because they’ll take advantage of any extra opportunities you give them. And on Thursday, that’s exactly what happened.

Quote of the Day

“You have no choice. That what you’ve got to do. You play this game as hard as you can and see where it shakes out. It doesn’t change the mentality that we have to go play our best brand of baseball tomorrow” — Ian Happ, via reporters in Atlanta, on turning the page after the sweep.


The NL Central race is over, and the Phillies have already locked up the top wild card spot. Earning one of the other two bids is Chicago’s only shot at the playoffs, and right now, they’re among five teams still mathematically in the race.

First, a reminder that there’s no more Game 163. Of the five teams battling for the last two spots, the Cubs own the tiebreaker (head-to-head record) over only the Padres, while they’d lose it to the Diamondbacks, Marlins and Reds.

Here’s how each of those five teams fared Thursday:

  • Cubs: Lost to the Braves
  • Diamondbacks: Lost to the White Sox
  • Marlins: Game suspended vs. Mets
  • Reds: Off
  • Padres: Off

Even with Arizona’s loss to the White Sox, the Cubs remain two games back of them. Without the tiebreaker, they would have to go 3-0 while the Diamondbacks go 0-3 this weekend to pass them in the standings.

Miami’s game against the Mets was suspended in the top of the ninth due to rain, which will be made up Monday if necessary. Still, with the Cubs’ loss Thursday, they’re now a 1/2 game back of the last wild card spot. For them to make that suspended game mean anything in terms of the wild card race (i.e. the Marlins would need to win in New York to finish tied in the standings and thus win the tiebreaker), the Cubs would need to out-win them by one game (3-0 vs. 2-1, 2-1 vs. 1-2, 1-2 vs. 0-3) over the weekend and force Miami to go back to Queens to complete it.

The Cubs remain ahead of Cincinnati and San Diego by one game and three games, respectively, but all that matters is that they don’t hold control of their postseason destiny. They still have to win ballgames, but they also have to rely on help from other teams to get to October.


A frustrating sweep in Atlanta has almost ended the Cubs’ playoff hopes. They still have a shot, but they need to turn things around quickly entering the last series of the year in Milwaukee — and hope their opponents falter at the same time.

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

  • Diamondbacks: vs. HOU (3)
  • Marlins: @ PIT (3), @ NYM (1, if necessary)
  • Reds: @ STL (3)
  • Padres: @ CWS (3)


According to FanGraphs’ playoff projections, the Cubs’ odds at clinching a wild card spot have dropped to 26.3 percent after the sweep. Among the five teams still making the push, the Diamondbacks (97.9 percent) and Marlins (68.3 percent) are massive favorites to be the final two teams in. The Reds (7.6 percent) are remote contenders, while the Padres — though not yet officially eliminated — are given 0.0 percent odds.

Today’s pitching matchup

With their season basically hanging in the balance, there may not be anyone else the Cubs would want on the mound to face Milwaukee than Kyle Hendricks (6-8, 3.66 ERA), considering how little big-game atmospheres affect him (he started two of the biggest games in franchise history, after all).

Hendricks has a solid 3.40 ERA in his career against the Crew. At American Family Field, he owns a 3.59 ERA. This year, he held the Brewers to two runs (one earned) across six innings on July 4 and one run (not earned) across six innings on Aug. 30. That should at least provide some confidence that he can give them a chance to win in the series opener.

Hendricks is also currently on a strong stretch of starts (2.90 ERA in his last seven), but the Cubs might need even more from “The Professor” to keep their postseason hopes alive.

Milwaukee will counter with Colin Rea (6-6, 4.74 ERA). Rea has been worse at home (5.19 ERA in 14 appearances) than on the road (4.27 ERA in 11 appearances) for the Brewers in 2023. He’s got a a 4.97 ERA in the 21 games he’s started. Facing Rea is more ideal for the Cubs than some of the other arms Milwaukee has in that rotation, but then again, so were Atlanta’s last two starters. With time running out on their season, the Cubs have to take advantage of the matchup.

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