Any hope of winning the National League Central is still alive for the Chicago Cubs. It was clear coming into this series that they needed to take at least one from the Milwaukee Brewers to keep themselves within striking distance of their Northern rivals.
Despite being one of the best teams post-All-Star break with a 27-15 record, the Cubs have been outpaced by the Brewers who have grown their division lead while playing some of the league's best teams. Getting swept meant falling seven games back which, with only 29 games after that and Milwaukee still white hot, seemed virtually insurmountable. With Justin Steele on the mound on Tuesday night, they kept that worst-case scenario from playing out winning a 1-0 game that ranks among their gutsiest wins of the year.
Steele put on one of his best and most important performances even if some of his other outings were statistically better. Despite battling through a Brewers lineup that averaged 7.1 runs a game over their nine-game winning streak on a night where he didn't have his best stuff and he was nailed in the leg by a comebacker from Victor Caratini early, he went six shutout innings with eight strikeouts, recording his fifteenth win of the year. He got some help from his defense, including a stellar leaping catch from Ian Happ, and he dealt with a lot of traffic, but it was yet another dominant performance that ensured one run was enough.
The Cubs are now back to four games out of the top spot in the Central with one more game to go. Taking this one now, with Brandon Woodruff looming, provides some much-needed relief. Even if they lose the final game, the Northsiders will still only be behind five games which, while not ideal, keeps a path open to their first division title since 2020, especially with one more series against the Brewers to close out the season.
A division title would be a spark for Cubs fans
Winning the division is not everything. The wild card, which the Cubs currently hold the second of, is still arguably the more likely path to the postseason as the Brewers retain their winning ways. As long as a window remains open, however, it's hard not to want that division title from the home-field advantage it gives to the sense of pride it would bring for this team which has totally turned it around. Cubs fans have reasons to cheer for this team again, and besting the Brewers, who have been a thorn in their side since 2018 and Game 163, would be a huge jolt of energy for everyone.
With the Diamondbacks and Giants both less than two games back of the second wild card and the Reds and Marlins not far behind either, claiming a wild card is no small feat either. They do have a chance, for better or worse, to control their fate here though with all three of the Reds, Diamondbacks, and Giants coming up on the schedule for one or more series each. Expect a roller coaster of emotions to close out the year with one of the most exciting stretches of Cubs baseball in some time.
It's do-or-die time for the Cubs these next few weeks, but taking this one game now, in that fashion, feels important. Reaching the playoffs alone is the ultimate goal, but surviving this series with division hopes alive is a win.