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Cubs playoff update: Loss to Pirates doesn't knock them out of wild card position

Ryan Herrera Avatar
September 21, 2023

The Cubs (79-73) couldn’t pull off a second straight win Wednesday night, losing 13-7 to the Pirates. It was a disappointing defeat coming off a blowout win in the series opener and with Justin Steele starting the game. The Cubs have lost nine of their last 12 games.

But with the three teams directly trailing them in the National League Wild Card race also losing Wednesday, the Cubs maintained control of a playoff spot by 1/2 a game. Some breathing room would’ve been nice, for sure, but the loss didn’t cost them their position in the standings.

Still, with 10 games left on their schedule, that slim lead is anything but safe. They’ll have to turn the page quickly and get back on track to hold off the other challengers.

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

Here it is, the moment that had fans believing the Cubs would rally back against Pittsburgh. The outcome wasn’t what they wanted (or needed at this juncture), but it was still an electric grand slam — the Cubs’ second in as many games — for Ian Happ.

Quote of the Day

“He’s been fantastic all season. He’s right in the Cy Young race. He’s one of the best starting pitchers in the National League this year. He’s been steady for us. He’s been the guy. We’ve relied on him all year. He’s been fantastic, and we’ll continue to rely on him moving forward” — Happ, on Justin Steele’s performance in 2023.


The Brewers won again Wednesday, moving them seven games ahead of the Cubs in the NL Central and dropping their magic number to clinch the division to 4. The division race appears all but over, even with three games left between the two teams at the end of the season. With that in mind, the wild card looks like the Cubs’ only shot at the playoffs.

The Phillies and Diamondbacks also won Wednesday, so the Cubs have fallen another game back of them as well. The Marlins, Reds and Giants all lost, though, so the Cubs still hold sole possession of the third Wild Card spot. They remain in control of their own postseason fate moving forward, with fewer losses than each of the three teams trailing them.

That obviously matters since there’s 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 Miami or Cincinnati. They’ll have to continue holding 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 San Francisco. They lost the season series to both Philadelphia and Arizona, so they would lose those tiebreakers as well.


The Cubs complete their second-to-last home series of the regular season Thursday in the finale against the Pirates. Following that is a three-game weekend set versus the Rockies. Then, after an off day next Monday, they’ll head to Atlanta for a three-game series before ending the regular season with three in Milwaukee.

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

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


According to FanGraphs’ playoff projections, the Cubs enter Thursday with a 45.9 percent chance to make the postseason. Their odds of clinching a wild card spot fell to 45.6 percent, and their odds at a division crown are down to 0.3 percent. Among the six teams in the wild card race, the Phillies (99.9 percent), Diamondbacks (84.7 percent) and Marlins (46.3 percent) are given better wild card odds than the Cubs. The Reds (20.8 percent) and the Giants (2.1 percent) are still within striking distance.

Today’s pitching matchup

Struggles and a major injury derailed him from 2021 through the first two months of this season, but Kyle Hendricks has looked more like “The Professor” since returning in late May.

On the season, Hendricks owns a 3.77 ERA in 22 starts. Over his last six outings, Hendricks has a 3.15 ERA, striking out 25 batters and walking only six in 34 1/3 innings during that stretch. At 33 years old, Hendricks is past his prime, but his offseason work has helped him regain some of what made him so dependable in his prime.

Hendricks isn’t expected to toss gems at this point in his career consistently, but as the pitcher who started Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS and Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, no moment is too big for him. This contest won’t be on that level, but he’s still a guy the Cubs would want on the mound in a big-game atmosphere.

The Pirates will counter with Johan Oviedo (8-14, 4.27 ERA). Oviedo is 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA in his last five starts — including a complete-game shutout on Aug. 28 — but the Cubs did beat him twice back in June.

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