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Cardinals 2, Cubs 1: Yikes

The Cubs’ magic number did not drop Saturday afternoon.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s put it this way.

Since 2008, teams whose starting pitchers who have had as good an outing as Cole Hamels did Saturday — seven innings, three hits, two runs, eight strikeouts — went 16-11. That’s pretty good.

But in that same time frame, teams whose starting pitchers had an outing as good as Miles Mikolas had Saturday — eight innings, five hits, one run, six strikeouts — went 21-6.

And that’s really the entire difference in the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Cardinals Saturday afternoon. Hamels was really good. Mikolas was just a little bit better.

I could end this recap right here, since you know what’s at stake, and go on and describe what’s to come tonight and Sunday.

But I owe you some description of what went on in the game, so here it is.

The Cubs scored first. With one out in the first inning, Ben Zobrist singled. One out later, Javier Baez lofted a little fly ball into short right field [VIDEO].

By the time the Cardinals had stopped kicking the ball around, Zobrist had come around to score. This was also going on:

Well done by Jason Heyward.

Meanwhile, Hamels set down the first nine Cardinals he faced, though there was some hard contact involved. In the fourth, Matt Carpenter led off with what appeared to be a ground out to Zobrist, but catcher’s interference was called. Did that rattle Hamels? He walked Jose Martinez, and then Paul DeJong singled to left, tying the game.

The Cubs had a runner on base with one out in the third, but Zobrist hit into a double play, lining a ball right at Carpenter. They also had a pair of runners on with one out in the fourth, but Kris Bryant ended that inning with a double play ball to third.

In the fifth, Hamels hit Harrison Bader on an 0-2 pitch and then walked Yairo Munoz on four pitches.

Or did he?

Oh, come on, Phil Cuzzi. At least one of those pitches should have been called a strike, if not both.

But they weren’t, and the Cardinals had runners on first and second with nobody out. Mikolas attempted to sacrifice but struck out bunting foul on strike three. Carpenter then singled to center, scoring Bader, but was thrown out at second on this nice play [VIDEO].

Okay, it’s 2-1 Cardinals, and they have had all of two hits. This game couldn’t be over, could it?

And yet, it was. Hamels got out of a jam in the sixth after hitting Yadier Molina with a runner already on base, then had a 1-2-3 seventh. And Steve Cishek (1-2-3 eighth) and Jesse Chavez (1-2-3 ninth) kept the Cubs in the game.

But the offense dried up. Daniel Murphy led off the sixth inning with a single to right... and he was the last Cubs baserunner. The last 12 Cubs were retired by Mikolas and Carlos Martinez, who has taken over as Cardinals closer.

And that prompts me to open the complaint department door regarding the Cubs’ approach in the ninth inning. The hitters they likely would want to have at the plate if they were drawing it up were at the plate: Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo and Baez.

And it took Martinez all of five pitches to retire all of them. I realize Joe Maddon preaches aggressive hitting, but.. really? Zobrist, first-pitch swinging, grounded to short. Rizzo took a ball and a strike and grounded to third. And Baez sent the first pitch for a routine fly ball to center field to end the game. I’d think the Cubs, who have hit Martinez well in the past, should at least have had a look to see if his repertoire had changed since his move to the bullpen.

This evisceration, at least, was fairly quick: two hours, 25 minutes, the fourth-shortest Cubs game of 2018 by time, on a chilly day when the sun was in and out, in front of 40,784. It doesn’t make this loss any easier to take. Joe summed things up:

So the Cubs will need help from the Tigers, as well as winning Sunday, to avoid having to play a tiebreaker game with the Brewers Monday at Wrigley Field. Mike Montgomery will go for the Cubs Sunday in the biggest start of his career; he will face Jack Flaherty. Game time Sunday is 2:20 p.m. CT — remember, all games Sunday start at (essentially) the same time, at 2 p.m. CT or shortly after. It’s possible the Cardinals’ season might be over by then — if the Dodgers defeat the Giants Saturday (at this writing they lead 2-0 early), the Cardinals will be eliminated from the postseason.

Before that, though, the Cubs might still get some assistance. The Tigers face the Brewers in Milwaukee in a game that begins at 6:10 p.m. CT. Daniel Norris starts for Detroit and Wade Miley will go for Milwaukee. I’m going to post a game preview/game thread for that game (one thread only) at 5:30 p.m. CT.

Go Tigers. Go Cubs. One day to decide the 2018 regular season.