Imagine telling yourself two years ago that you’d be quibbling over how the Cubs clinched the division, not that they had at all. And imagine that it would be the second year in a row that they’d be headed to the playoffs. How wonderfully bizarre.
Like last season, the Cubs positioned themselves tonight to clinch their playoff spot on a loss by another team rather than a win of their own. A bit unsatisfying, sure, but dwelling on this feels arbitrary. It’s silly to spend much time miring in the minutiae of how the Cubs clinched rather than that they did, given the feeling of inevitability that has blanketed this team practically since Easter. It’s a strange luxury, feeling so certain of a playoff berth for so long, but the Cubs have earned that.
So perhaps more important than the Cubs loss tonight is that the Cardinals lost too, so the NL Central is decided. Not that it was ever in doubt.
Top Play (WPA): Much like last October, Jorge Soler provided what appeared to be the key moment of the game, and not just the top play in a game that ended in a loss. In the second inning, Addison Russell led off with a pop up single to third base when Hernan Perez inexplicably missed the catch. It was kind of an unusual play in what proved to be an unusual night for Russell as a whole, but it set up the laser two-run home run from Soler that gave the Cubs an early 2-0 lead (+.169).
Bottom Play (WPA): For the Brewers, it was the fourth and seventh innings that gave them this victory. Strangely fitting, because in both cases the Cubs had pitchers throwing who would not ordinarily be in those spots. Mike Montgomery isn’t otherwise the starter giving up three runs in the fourth, and with a healthy bullpen, Justin Grimm doesn’t often pitch the seventh, even though he’s been excellent recently.
Nonetheless, that’s the reality of the Cubs now, and the reason they lost tonight’s game. In the seventh, Grimm gave up a lead off double to Domingo Santana and then walked Martin Maldonado after striking out Orlando Arcia. Following the Maldonado walk, Scooter Gennett pinch hit for Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson and doubled to left on an 0-2 curveball, scoring Santana and Maldonado (-.279).
Key Moment: Maybe tonight it all boils down to a rare throwing error from Addison Russell. On a relatively routine play to shortstop—not a simple one, but one he can ordinarily handle with ease—Russell missed the throw just enough to force Rizzo to either come off of the bag to make the catch or just miss the ball, like he ended up doing.
Not allowing free baserunners in a close game is a basic truism in baseball, and it was displayed in full glory tonight. Predictably, the Brewers went on to score two more runs that inning (Keon Broxton hit a solo home run to lead off the fourth) and take the lead. They’d never lose that lead from there on out, though the Cubs would threaten.
These aren’t key moments, per se, but it should not go unmentioned that Montgomery had a rather excellent night. He threw six innings tonight for his longest start of the season, and he gave up just one earned run on three hits and struck out seven. Take away the throwing error from Russell and the Cubs are celebrating with champagne and Montgomery gets the win.
In a smaller way, Jason Heyward’s RBI double in the eighth inning was refreshing. Not just because it gave the hint of the possibility that the Cubs might come back and win the game and clinch on their own terms, but also because it was the shade of Jason Heywards Past. That double was the kind of hit that he was notorious for in a Cardinals uniform in 2015, and the kind of hit the Cubs would love more of a few weeks from now.
Trend to Watch: Joe Maddon’s “interesting” lineups. Following tonight’s game, he alluded to the likelihood that he might have some fun with the lineup, at least for Friday’s game. There’s still home field advantage to be played for, but there’s also no real harm in allowing players some rest while at the same time seeing what other players can do in spots they aren’t accustomed to.
Coming Next: A beautiful Friday matinee. Tomorrow John Lackey (9-8, 3.35 ERA) takes the hill for the Cubs in their push now for home field advantage through the division series and championship series, provided they advance. The Brewers are slated to send Chase Anderson (8-11, 4.53 ERA) to the mound in their push to just let the season come to a merciful end. Tomorrow’s game can be seen on CSN, and the voices of Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer can be heard on 670 AM.
Lead photo courtesy Caylor Arnold—USA Today Sports