This is not what the Chicago Cubs had in mind.
Chicago (82-73) had a chance to push for a division title with a strong series against the St. Louis Cardinals (88-67) this weekend. Instead, the Cubs have lost the first three games of the series and five straight games overall to put their season in jeopardy.
Now, the Cubs will try to stave off a sweep when they host the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon in their home finale.
“They’re almost like all seventh games (of a playoff series) we’re playing right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters on Saturday. “But you’ve got to do it in a manner that you’re not pressing during these games.”
It might be too late.
In the National League Central division, the Cubs trail the first-place Cardinals by six games with only seven games remaining in the regular season. Chicago also has fallen three games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
The Cubs’ latest loss might have been their most devastating. They led 8-7 entering the ninth inning, only to watch Craig Kimbrel allow homers on each of his first two pitches — one to Yadier Molina and one to Paul DeJong — in what blew up into a 9-8 loss.
Kimbrel figures to be unavailable for the series finale, unless all other options have been exhausted. He has taken the loss twice in the last three games and has an 0-4 record since joining the Cubs in the middle of the season.
“I feel great right now,” Kimbrel told reporters. “My last two outings, I felt great. I just didn’t get the results I wanted, the results I need to have to do my job. Moving forward, I have a good feeling I will.”
Good feelings are warranted for the Cardinals, who can clinch a playoff appearance with a win on Sunday. St. Louis has missed the postseason for three seasons running and is in line to snap the skid in the first full season under manager Mike Shildt.
Shildt said he was proud of his group after the latest comeback win.
“We’ve seen resilience all year, so we can’t be surprised by it, but we proved it yet again,” he told reporters. “That’s how we play the game. We play the game the whole way. …
“When you invest as much as this group invests in what they do every day, and you invest about something being bigger than you, that means you care. And when you care, it means you fight. And that’s what this team does: It cares and fights.”
The Cardinals will start right-hander Miles Mikolas (9-14, 4.29 ERA), who is looking to post double-digit wins for the second season in a row. Mikolas is 3-2 with a 1.64 ERA in nine games (seven starts) against the Cubs in his career.
Chicago will turn to right-hander Yu Darvish (6-7, 4.02), who has posted a 2.70 ERA in 12 starts since the All-Star break. Darvish is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three career starts against the Cardinals.
St. Louis is 8-7 against the Cubs this season.
–Field Level Media