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The last time the Cubs were in the playoffs, they had to play their postseason games in an empty Wrigley Field. In 2020, the pandemic shortened the season and kept the stands empty. Not since 2018, when the Cubs played the Rockies in the wild card game, have fans been able to see the Cubs in a playoff game at the Friendly Confines.
On Sunday, as just over 37,000 of them watched the Cubs sweep the Rockies to close out the last of their 81 regular season games at home, the excitement over their postseason chances was palpable. At the same time, the question of whether there would be another game at Wrigley in 2023 hung over Sunday’s 4-3 win.
As things stand now, the Cubs will have to play the wild card series on the road, likely in Milwaukee, and possibly in Philadelphia. They have the third wild card spot and are one game ahead of the Marlins. The Cubs would have to win the three-game wild card to get to host any division series games in Chicago. There are six regular season games left to decide – assuming they stay ahead of Miami – which wild card spot they’ll have. Moving ahead of the Diamondbacks would mean they play the Phillies. Staying as is would mean the Brewers.
“We’ve got six games in the regular season left, and we’re going to take it game by game,” Patrick Wisdom said. “But momentum is crucial. I don’t think we ever lost sight of that confidence, especially during the little uneasy patch. But I think getting back on the horse, if you will, and having a sweep here at home just builds that momentum.”
The Cubs swept Colorado after dropping four straight series; a four-game set to Arizona at Wrigley, and then two on the road to the Rockies and Diamondbacks and one at home to the Pirates.
Wisdom gave the Wrigley crowd reason to cheer Sunday. Trailing 3-1 in the sixth inning, Seiya Suzuki led off with a double and then scored on Yan Gomes’ sacrifice fly to get the Cubs within a run. And then Wisdom hit a 432-foot blast to left center to put the Cubs ahead.
He and the rest of the team and coaches stuck around on the field to sing “Go Cubs Go” with the fans after the final out. That’s been a custom for the team for some time, but the chorus of fans and players together sounds different when the Cubs are in a playoff race.
Wrigley attendance totaled 2,775,149 this year, the highest number since before the pandemic. Fans were allowed back in the stands in 2021 in increments, and there were no restrictions on attendance last season, but this year’s total outpaced 2022 by about 100,000 fans.
“It’s awesome. It gives me goosebumps when we’re saying thanks to the fans out there after the game,” Wisdom said. “Just to see the pure joy on their faces and the smiles. I mean, it’s electric, and you can’t beat it, really.”
The Cubs have won 82 games so far this season, and that’s been driven by the right mixture of veteran presence and players stepping up to fill roles as needed. Jordan Wicks was called up to fill out the rotation on August 26, and he delivered his third quality start Sunday. Wicks tossed six innings and held Colorado to three runs before handing the ball off to the bullpen. The relievers have been without Adbert Alzolay, who has emerged as the stabilizing force at the back end, since he went on the 15-day injured list on September 10 with forearm tightness. Since then, a rotating group has had to pick up the high-leverage innings at the end of games.
On Saturday, Jose Cuas earned the save in the ninth after Julian Merryweather took the eighth inning, and on Sunday, the two of them flipped places. Cuas pitched a scoreless eighth inning and then Merryweather produced the last three outs in the ninth.
“We’ve seen everyone in every role at this point in the year,” Merryweather said. “And that kind of gives everyone confidence that we can do any role we get put into. I think that’s been our calling card as a bullpen, that we’re ready at any time for anything.”
Wisdom, in some sense too, is playing in a different role than he had been. After serving as a de facto starter for many of the final games of 2021 and most of the 2022 season, Wisdom has been relegated to part time duties. The Cubs’ roster construction has changed a lot since last season and even more since this year began, so Wisdom’s name shows up in the lineup less often.
But, like Merryweather and the rest of the bullpen arms, Wisdom has leaned into his new role.
“I had to go all in, I couldn’t be questioning it,” he said. “Just accept it and keep going and trust in my abilities, knowing that when my name is called, I’m ready.”
No two playoff team formulas look quite the same, but assuming the Cubs are at least able to hang on to the third wild card spot, their 2023 formula was featured in a microcosm over the last regular season weekend at Wrigley Field. The usual veterans delivered when needed, and role players stepped in and made their impact. The bullpen who – despite not having stable roles for much of the season – has stayed in the top half of the league in ERA, gave three scoreless innings Sunday to protect the lead Wisdom gave the team.
There might be another chance for Cubs fans to sing over a victory at Wrigley this fall. Whatever happens, Sunday’s win had a little more meaning because it might be the last time Steve Goodman’s song is heard in Lakeview this year.
“That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s nice to win, it’s nice to hear ‘Go Cubs Go’ in the background when you’re thanking them and they’re singing and cheering,” David Ross said. “Almost 40,000 people in the stands and you get to try to give back some of the love. I know our play is supposed to do that, but to take the last game of the regular season at home, it’s just nice to make sure they know we appreciate their support.”
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