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Cardinals 2, Cubs 1: It ain’t over till it’s over (PSST! It’s almost over)

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The Cubs suffered another excruciating defeat.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Do you hear that sound? Listen closely...

It’s the sound of the Cubs’ window of contention closing.

Before you accuse me of being overly melodramatic, this game was yet another microcosm of not only this season, but last year too. Too many wasted chances. Some really good pitching, but too many walks at the worst possible time.

It all added up to a 2-1 loss to the Cardinals, the Cubs’ fourth straight defeat and one they could little afford, as it pretty much ended any chance of winning the N.L. Central, five games out with eight remaining. Oh, sure, they’re still sort of in the wild-card race, but you don’t really think they’ll be only one game behind the Brewers after Milwaukee demolishes hosts the Pirates this evening, do you?

Sigh. No, I’m not in a good mood this evening, and likely, neither are you. But let’s go through this game, because there were some good things in it.

Alec Mills threw very, very well for almost five innings. The “almost” is the key, because since he could not register the last out of the fifth, that started a cascade of Cubs relievers who just weren’t quite the right fit at the right time.

Mills allowed two hits and struck out six. He walked two — the second, Dexter Fowler with two out in the fifth. If Mills had retired Fowler, then Kyle Ryan wouldn’t have had to be wasted on recording the last out of that inning when the pitcher’s spot in the batting order led off the last of the fifth and everyone knew a pinch hitter would be coming.

While Mills was throwing well — and seriously, the Cubs could do worse for a fifth starter in 2020 — the Cubs had their chances on the basepaths. Anthony Rizzo led off the first with a walk, but when Nicholas Castellanos lined sharply to short, Rizzo simply couldn’t get back quickly enough on his bad ankle and was doubled off.

The Cubs took the lead in the second. Kyle Schwarber doubled, and advanced to third on a groundout. David Bote batted next [VIDEO].

Tommy Edman couldn’t handle Bote’s ground ball. Bote was safe and Schwarber scored, giving the Cubs their first lead since Monday. Jason Heyward singled Bote to third and it appeared the Cubs might put together an inning, but Nico Hoerner hit into a double play.

The Cubs again had an opportunity in the third. Three straight singles by Rizzo, Castellanos and Kris Bryant loaded the bases. This is where Rizzo’s inability to run at full speed really hurt. He might have scored on Bryant’s hit if he had been 100 percent.

But again, here are two runners in scoring position with one out. Another double play followed, this one hit into by Schwarber.

In the fifth, Castellanos doubled [VIDEO].

That was his 57th of the season (37 with the Tigers). He is just the 13th player in MLB history to hit that many in a single season. To put what he’s done with the Cubs in perspective, that’s his 20th as a Cub. That ties him with Heyward for fifth on the Cubs. Heyward has played 94 more games as a Cub this year than Castellanos.

The Cubs nursed their 1-0 lead into the sixth and then the bullpen fell apart. David Phelps walked the first two hitters he faced. He was removed in favor of Steve Cishek, who completed the trifecta by issuing another walk. Bases loaded, nobody out, and Yadier Molina was the next hitter. You can almost predict what’s coming even if you don’t want it. Molina singled in two runs. Credit to Cishek and Brad Wieck for not allowing any more runs and keeping the game close.

Those “credits” are getting a little tired, with no offense to back them up.

The Cubs had another good scoring chance in the seventh. Heyward and Hoerner blooped singles, one to left, one to right.

Now, would you have bunted them along? Joe Maddon usually doesn’t. The Cubs have only 30 sacrifice hits this year. Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist flied to center, but Castellanos walked to load the bases for Bryant.

Here’s where the former MVP needs to step up. He didn’t. He flied to left and the inning was over.

In the top of the eighth, two more walks and a single loaded the bases for the Cardinals with one out. This time, Rowan Wick cleaned up his own mess with a strikeout and a ground-ball force play.

Derek Holland and Pedro Strop managed to combine to strike out the side in the ninth, despite putting two more Cardinals on base via walks. The Cardinals had only four hits on the afternoon, but nine walks. Cubs pitchers threw a ghastly total of 187 pitches, only 112 of which were strikes. Yikes.

So, it’s the last of the ninth. Heyward popped to short. So did Hoerner. Then Tony Kemp was sent up to bat for Jonathan Lucroy, who had been the Cubs’ fourth first baseman of the day. Kemp worked a walk — a really good at-bat. The tying run is on base! Zobrist is the hitter, and you hoped he would just keep the inning alive for Castellanos. Unfortunately, Ben grounded to first to end the game.

Personally, I was wondering who would play first base if the Cubs had sent the game to extras. Willson Contreras could have, I suppose, but that would have meant Schwarber catching and Albert Almora Jr. in the outfield.

All fun to speculate, I guess, but we are now staring an October without Cubs baseball in the face. The loss makes the Cubs 19-25 in one-run games this year. And the double plays, four of them, just killed any chance at run-scoring:

Of course, there are still eight games remaining, and maybe a miracle will happen and they’ll win all eight of them and we’ll see them playing somewhere in the postseason. (See if you can convince yourself this is actually going to happen.)

I’m trying to remain hopeful here, but it’s pretty difficult right now.

Anyway, there will be another game Saturday. Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs and Dakota Hudson gets the call for the Cardinals. Game time is again 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage Saturday will be via WGN.