Chicago Cubs playing flat as their division lead shrinks to a half-game

(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

With everything to lose, the Chicago Cubs kicked off their final homestand of the year with back-to-back lackluster showing, prompting panic in fans everywhere.

After 6-1 series-opening loss on Monday night, we’d all hoped the Chicago Cubs moved on and would show up Tuesday ready to get back on track. Instead, they looked uninspired and unmotivated in a 5-0 shutout loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

With the loss, Chicago’s lead in the National League Central shrank to just one-half game, after Milwaukee put a thumping on the St. Louis Cardinals. The magic number to clinch the division remains at five, but the number needed to clinch a postseason spot fell to one. Both the Cubs and Brewers enter play Wednesday with 91 wins on the year.

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The difference? The Cubs play two more games with the Pirates this week before welcoming the Cardinals into town for the weekend. Milwaukee, meanwhile, goes for the sweep against St. Louis Wednesday before enjoying a day off. Then, the Tigers come to Miller Park to wrap up the regular season.

In short, the Cubs face a much stronger challenge over the season’s final five days than the team hot on their heels. And, given the Brewers’ white-hot play  (14-7 record in September), you can’t be feeling too good right now if you’re on the North Side.

Chicago has just a two-in-three chance of winning the Central following Tuesday’s loss (65.1 percent). Those odds sat north of 90 percent just days ago – but it’s not hard to see why they’re plummeting.

Even worse, Kris Bryant left the game after being hit by a pitch on the wrist. X-rays were negative, but the third baseman/outfielder will not play on Wednesday, taking a big bat out of the Chicago lineup.

With David Bote struggling in a big way, we’ll have to see how Joe Maddon lines things up on Wednesday evening – but he may be forced to rely on Bote, Tommy La Stella or even Mike Freeman. Not exactly a group you’re high on with a division lead on the line.

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What’s Next

Chicago and Pittsburgh continue their four-game series on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. Left-hander Jose Quintana squares off against right-hander Ivan Nova.