CHICAGO – This is late regular season stress that’s a bit unusual for this Cubs’ team.
Yes, the team has made the playoffs the last three seasons, but entering their last week of each, their fate was basically decided. In 2015 they were locked into the second Wild Card with little hope for advancement. The NL Central was long since clinched in 2016 when the team played their final games of the year as a tune up for the playoffs. Last season was a bit tighter, but winning the division was still a foregone conclusion and was wrapped up early in the week.
It’s a lot different this year. Doubt from Cubs’ fans is real, not just some paranoia from a times of the past.
After two lackluster offensive performances, their lead is now down to a half-game after the Brewers took the first two games of their series with the Cardinals in St. Louis. Now comes a potential nightmare scenario on Wendesday – a Cubs’ loss and a Milwaukee win would vault them a half-game into first place.
Panic time? Hardly. In fact, the Cubs would clinch a postseason berth if the Brewers win since the Cardinals are currently the last team out in the Wild Card race. But for a team that’s got eyes on getting to the World Series and not just the playoffs, that won’t be good enough.
“This is what we signed up for, we don’t want it any other way,” said outfielder Albert Almora Jr. of the tight race for the playoffs. “It would be nice to to have that first spot, to coast through these days. But I think these are all playoff games and it’s going to get us ready for October.”
In many ways Jose Quintana has been pitching contests like this the past month, and will face another critical start tonight against the Pirates. Twice he’s been in a critical situation for the Cubs this September, and he’s managed to save his best for then.
Against Milwaukee on September 5th, Quintana faced the Brewers at Miller Park with the hosts gunning for a sweep of a three-game series. Quintana calmly took the mound and held Milwaukee to two runs in 6 2/3 innings in a 6-4 Cubs win. The Brewers were back at Wrigley Field six days later and had the Cubs’ lead down to two games in the division, but once again the lefty shut them down, not allowing a run in another 6 2/3 inning effort in a 3-0 victory.
He’s lost his last two starts coming into the game, having given up just two in a defeat to the Reds on September 16th and then five runs to the White Sox last Friday. But maybe he’s got one more great effort in him to get the Cubs a little closer to a division title.