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Here it is, the biggest two-game stretch of the season for the Cubs. All that matters is that, if they can’t take these last two games in Milwaukee after dropping the series opener in extra innings, it’s impossible for the Cubs to make the postseason.
That’s a steep fall from where they were three weeks ago, but that’s the situation they now find themselves in. It still may not be enough if the other National League Wild Card challengers don’t falter at the same time, but it’s all the Cubs have left to do to give 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
Dansby Swanson should win his second straight Gold Glove Award this season. He leads all NL shortstops in defensive runs saved (17) and outs above average (19). He’s played stellar defense at the position for a Cubs team who came into the season with the expectation that run prevention would be its key for success.
But down the stretch, Swanson didn’t look as crisp. Of his 11 errors in 2023, four of them were made in September. Three of those came in just one week of games, and two happened during the Cubs’ last homestand while their playoff odds continued to shrink. That doesn’t include some other miscues that didn’t go down as errors but were uncharacteristic for their defensive leader.
That’s why it was great to see Swanson come up big for the Cubs with two gems in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday (which you can see here starting at the 2:53 mark, via Marquee Sports Network). No one will ever question Swanson’s defensive ability, but with the season winding down, some wondered why his performance on that side of the ball seemed to be waning.
Those two plays, though, should inspire some confidence that, well, he’s going to be just fine.
Quote of the Day
“I think that’s easy to let happen, but I know this group and the adversity that we’ve faced all year. It’s kind of our DNA to just continue to fight and grind. That’s who we are. That’s what’s made this year so amazing in so many ways, just this group being able to really come together in moments like that and really grind and battle through things. If we would’ve let things affect us, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are right now. It’s been a pleasure so far, and I know that we’re looking forward to two more opportunities to put ourselves in position to make the playoffs” — Swanson, on if battling back into the playoff picture might’ve worn the Cubs out by the end of the season.
The NL Central race is over, and the Phillies have already locked up the top wild card spot. It’s also now impossible for the Cubs to jump the Diamondbacks in the standings, so earning the last wild card is their only shot at the playoffs.
First, a reminder that there’s no more Game 163. Of the teams still not out of the race, the Cubs would lose the tiebreaker (head-to-head record) to the Diamondbacks, Marlins and Reds.
Here’s how each of those teams fared Friday:
- Cubs: Lost to the Brewers
- Diamondbacks: Lost to the Astros
- Marlins: Beat the Pirates
- Reds: Beat the Cardinals
Again, the Diamondbacks own the tiebreaker, so there’s no path for the Cubs to take the second wild card spot. Here’s the only scenario remaining for them to sneak into the postseason:
- First, the Cubs need to win their last two games of the season. They literally cannot afford any more losses this weekend
- Next, the Reds, who have now tied the Cubs in the standings (and would finish ahead based on the tiebreaker), need to at least split their last two games in St. Louis. That way, the Cubs would finish a game ahead of them
- Finally, the Marlins need to lose both of their last two games in Pittsburgh, requiring their suspended game against the Mets (which would be resumed Monday, if necessary, with them leading 2-1 in the top of the ninth) be played — and they’d need to lose that one, too
It’s fair to say it would take a miracle for the Cubs to reach the playoffs, because that’s how it feels. But this is their only path to playing postseason baseball in 2023.
Only two games remain on the Cubs’ regular season schedule, and again, they need to win them both. If they don’t pull out the series win in Milwaukee, their season is over. But even if they do, it may still not be enough.
Here are the remaining schedules for the other teams still mathematically in the wild card hunt:
- Diamondbacks: vs. HOU (2)
- Marlins: @ PIT (2), @ NYM (1, if necessary)
- Reds: @ STL (2)
According to FanGraphs’ playoff projections, the Cubs’ odds at clinching a wild card spot have fallen all the way to 3.9 percent after Friday. They have the lowest odds of all four teams still in the wild card race. The Diamondbacks (94.5 percent) and Marlins (91 percent) are still the heavy favorites to be the final two teams in, and the Reds (10.6 percent) aren’t out of it just yet.
Today’s pitching matchup
Jordan Wicks (4-1, 3.00 ERA) has been exactly what the Cubs needed during this last month of the season.
Called up at the end of August, Wicks quickly ingrained himself in the rotation. For some rookie pitchers, getting thrust into a starting role in the middle of a playoff race might be a big challenge, but he hasn’t looked at all overwhelmed by the moment. As the Cubs’ pitching staff has had its issues over the last month, Wicks has done a nice job of helping to stabilize the starting group.
While he has given up six earned runs in 10 1/3 innings over his last two outings, his start Sunday also featured his third career quality start (in just six starts). Saturday will be the biggest start of Wicks’ young career, but with their playoff hopes legitimately hinging on the outcome of this game, the Cubs need him to deliver.
Milwaukee will counter with Eric Lauer (4-5, 5.48 ERA). A solid arm in the Brewers’ rotation the last two seasons, Lauer’s 2023 was impacted by a lingering issue in his right, non-throwing shoulder. He hasn’t pitched for Milwaukee since May 20, as he was placed on the 15-day injured list two days later. Since then, he’s posted a 5.04 ERA in 13 minor league appearances (10 starts).
Tweet of the Day
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