By Nate Johnson
If your team’s performance in September is truly an indicator of playoff potential, the sky truly might be the limit for this year’s Chicago Cubs team.
Coming off a 5-2 stretch against the only two teams ahead of them in the Major League standings, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs came into their home series with the Milwaukee Brewers poised to clinch a spot in the Wild Card play-in game before the weekend.
After an inauspicious start to their trip to Pittsburgh with a 5-4 loss in the matinee half of a Tuesday doubleheader, the Cubs bounced back for a 2-1 win in the nightcap behind a 5-hit complete game from Jon Lester.
While the missed opportunity for all-world starter Jake Arrieta to win his twentieth game on Wednesday was disappointing, the team walked away with their second win in a row in a 12-inning nailbiter. Thursday’s win made it three in a row before heading home to meet the dreaded Cardinals.
Despite the loss in Pittsburgh, Arrieta still notched his seventeenth straight quality start, a streak he hopes to continue this Tuesday against the Brewers as he gives it go number two to become the first Cubs pitcher to win twenty games since Jon Lester in 2001.
During the run, Arrieta has gone 13-1 with a nearly sub-1.00 ERA and 120 strikeouts, putting himself in position for the win-or-go-home opportunity on October 7.
Chicago continued their roll through the first two games hosting St. Louis, behind the bat of Starlin Castro on Friday (2 home runs, 6 RBI) and the glove of Addison Russell on Saturday, as he made possibly the play of the year (how quickly we forget about Anthony Rizzo climbing a tarp) to end a late-game threat after the remaining bullpen hiccupped following the ejections of closer Hector Rondon and manager Joe Maddon in the ninth inning.
Rondon’s ejection came after the sixth hit batsman of the first two games of an increasingly testy series that saw Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday hit in the head before Rizzo, far and away the Major League leader in HBP, took two for the team before both he and Maddon took exception.
The tension carried over to Saturday, when Cards second baseman Kolton Wong got the two-hit treatment. Rondon’s errant pitch against shortstop Greg Garcia, clearly not intentional, was the icing on the cake.
With the opportunity to sweep the Cardinals and shave another game off their playoff magic number, the Cubs fell behind early in the series finale and were unable to mount yet another comeback win. The slump did not last long, however, as the Cubs cut their magic number to four by beating the Brewers 9-5 on Monday.
After three against Milwaukee, the Pirates return to Chicago for the last full Wrigley series of the regular season before one make-up game against the Kansas City Royals. Hopes are high that this will not be the last time this fall that the Royals visit the Friendly Confines.