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Cubs playoff update: Alexander Canario's grand slam keys strong start for wild card push

Ryan Herrera Avatar
September 20, 2023

The Cubs (79-72) managed to rebound from a 2-8 stretch (including a 1-5 road trip) with a 14-1 blowout win over the Pirates on Tuesday. A victory like this can provide a big boost as the playoff race heats up.

The Cubs snapped their five-game losing streak with the win. A National League Wild Card spot is back in their possession. The group has responded to adversity all season, and Tuesday’s performance was a sign that it might have enough left in the tank to make it to October.

But there are still 11 games left on the schedule. The Cubs will need to continue playing what manager David Ross calls “our brand of baseball” to get there.

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

What a night for 23-year-old Alexander Canario, who marked his first MLB start with a grand slam in the eighth inning.

Quote of the day

“It’s surreal. I really have no words. Just to think back, in January, I was in a boot, I was using a scooter to move around. And now, I hit a grand slam in the big leagues. It’s just a surreal moment” – Alexander Canario, through interpreter Fredy Quevedo, on the journey that led to his grand slam against the Pirates


The Brewers matched the Cubs with a win Tuesday, meaning they remain six games ahead in the NL Central. The Cubs can keep winning, but if they don’t get some help from Milwaukee’s opponents, it won’t matter. So with a division crown getting further and further away from being realistic, the wild card standings are what we should be monitoring.

Fortunately for the Cubs, the Reds lost to the Twins, so they’ve taken sole possession of the third NL Wild Card spot. This means they have complete control of their own postseason fate moving forward, given that they have fewer losses than each of the three teams trailing them.

That obviously matters since there is no more Game 163. Tiebreakers, starting with head-to-head record, will determine any ties at the end of the season, and they don’t hold those over either the Marlins or Reds, the two teams right behind them in the standings. So, they’ll have to hold those two teams off by at least a game the rest of the way.

As for the other three teams in the race, the Cubs hold the tiebreaker over only the Giants. The Cubs lost the season series to both the Phillies and Diamondbacks, so they would lose those tiebreakers, too.


The Cubs continue their final homestand of the regular season Wednesday with Game 2 of 3 against the Pirates. Following that is a three-game weekend set versus the Rockies. And after an off day next Monday, they’ll head to Atlanta for a three-game, mid-week series before ending the regular season with three in Milwaukee.

Here are the remaining schedules for other five teams still in the Wild Card hunt:

  • Phillies: @ ATL (1), vs. NYM (4), vs. PIT (3), @ NYM (3)
  • Diamondbacks: vs. SF (1), @ NYY (3), @ CWS (3), vs. HOU (3)
  • Reds: vs. MIN (1), vs. PIT (3), @ CLE (2), @ STL (3)
  • Marlins: vs. NYM (1), vs. MIL (3), @ NYM (3), @ PIT (3)
  • Giants: @ ARI (1), @ LAD (4), vs. SD (3), vs. LAD (3)


According to FanGraphs, the Cubs enter Wednesday with a 52.3 percent chance to make the playoffs. Their odds to clinch a wild card spot are at 51 percent. Among the six teams in the Wild Card race, the Phillies (98.8 percent), Diamondbacks (65.5 percent) and Marlins (51.9 percent) are given better wild card odds than the Cubs, while the Reds (26 percent) and the Giants (5.4 percent) have fallen back but are still within striking distance.

Today’s pitching matchup

Game 2 of the series will feature both teams’ top starting pitchers taking the bump.

Justin Steele (16-4, 2.73 ERA) will look to rebound from one of his only rough starts of the season Friday, when he allowed six earned runs (his season high) in six innings in Arizona.

Steele is still firmly in the NL Cy Young conversation, and strong outings down the stretch will bolster his case. However, while he’s acknowledged what that award would mean, he’s maintained that his main focus is leading his team to the playoffs.

Ross has stated that Steele’s start day now feels like “win day” with how often he puts his team in position to win whenever he takes the bump. So, Wednesday will be Steele’s next opportunity to help the Cubs continue going in a positive direction after a tough road trip last week.

Also, with the rotation being shuffled thanks to Monday’s off day, Steele will start at least once more next week in Atlanta, with the possibility that he could start the final game of the season in Milwaukee if a win is needed for the Cubs to clinch a playoff spot. So, Wednesday could be the start of a three-outing stretch for Steele to help get his squad to the postseason.

The Pirates will counter with Mitch Keller (12-9, 4.04 ERA). While Keller has had a up-and-down season, he’s currently on a strong run of starts over the past month. He’s 3-1 with a 2.77 ERA in his last six outings, which includes eight shutout innings against the Cubs in Pittsburgh on Aug. 25.

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