The Major League Baseball season is winding down and the Chicago Cubs are still in the playoff hunt. Considering where they were earlier in the year and at this point in the rebuild, it's a win to simply have the team playing meaningful baseball in Augusts again. They're currently in possession of the second Wild Card spot, but the rest of this season looks to dictate their postseason fate.
After they wrap up their soft stretch against the White Sox, Royals, Tigers, and Pirates, the majority of the Cubs' remaining games will be against teams directly in contention with them for a Wild Card or the division. 32 games are left after this weekend with 20 of them coming against the Diamondbacks, Giants, Reds, and Brewers. That means plenty of chances to directly improve their standings relative to the playoffs.
Key among those games is the two series against Milwaukee. The Cubs play three games against the Brewers in Chicago to close out August, but they also have three more looming at the very end of the season. Winning the division is still their safest bet at reaching the playoffs, so every match-up against their rivals feels absolutely massive. It doesn't help that the Brewers are on a hot stretch, winning seven of their last ten and cementing themselves as one of the best teams in the National League not named Atlanta.
Beyond the Brewers, they have seven games with the Diamondbacks, a team that's been reeling since the All-Star break. Even so, the Snakes are still in line for that final Wild Card spot and, after winning nine of their last eleven, seem to be catching fire ahead of a final push. The Giants, who are right in the thick of the race at only a half-game back, are also on the schedule, though they've stumbled a bit amid a rough stretch against some tough teams like the Rangers and Braves. Finally, there are the Reds who sit barely behind Arizona and, despite their struggles, just added reinforcements in the form of Noelvi Marte and have more than enough young talent to scare the Cubs.
The Cubs need to bring their A-game for crucial final stretch
Although they've continued to rack up series wins, it's clear the Cubs are not playing to their full potential of late. While their offensive numbers in August have been strong with a .808 OPS overall, their slash line over the last eleven games is only .227/.296/.429. These struggles have been prevalent even against sub-.500 teams.
The Cubs' pitching staff is the true question mark right now though. Between Marcus Stroman's likely season-ending rib cartilage fracture and Drew Smyly's massive struggles with a 7.43 ERA in the second half, there are causes for concern for this team. Their only answers lie internally - Jordan Wicks and Ben Brown have both been on the radar as potential September call-ups while Hayden Wesneski is available to return to the rotation from the bullpen if the struggles continue.
Thanks to their talent, the Cubs have managed to keep winning series and stay afloat amid a soft stretch in the schedule. Coasting won't work with the playoffs on the line, however. This team needs to take control of its destiny and win some baseball games when it matters most against its closest competitors.