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Pirates 2, Cubs 1: Déjà vu

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Yes. You have seen this game before. Too often, in fact.

Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

I don’t know how the 2020 Cubs season is going to end, and neither do you.

I do know that it will end very quickly next week unless something other than “Anthony Rizzo hits a home run” is the Cubs offense.

Rizzo has provided all the Cubs scoring the last two days with a two-run homer Tuesday and a solo shot Wednesday. The Cubs got some fine pitching Wednesday, but that wasn’t enough even against a bad Pirates team, and the Pirates defeated the Cubs 2-1 Wednesday evening.

Ian Happ struck out leading off the game and then Rizzo gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead [VIDEO].

That lead lasted about five minutes, because the first two Pirates hitters against Kyle Hendricks (Adam Frazier and Ke’Bryan Hayes) also hit solo shots. Eight pitches into the bottom of the first, the Bucs had a 2-1 lead.

After that, Hendricks was his usual outstanding self. He allowed just six other hits and walked only one. Fun Hendricks 2020 fact:

Kyle Hendricks, two starts at Cincinnati: 10⅓ innings, 9.58 ERA
Kyle Hendricks, 10 starts not at Cincinnati: 70 innings, 1.41 ERA

Outside Cincinnati this year, The Professor is a Cy Young candidate. We have discussed this before.

Kyle finishes this season (barring a relief inning against the White Sox this Sunday, which David Ross hinted is possible) with 81⅓ innings. That leads the major leagues, and all the other pitchers close to Kyle have also completed their seasons (unless Trevor Bauer starts a second time on short rest Sunday), so Hendricks likely will finish 2020 as the MLB innings leader. That inning total, incidentally, comes just 2⅔ innings short of an average of seven per start.

Back to Wednesday’s game. The Cubs certainly had their chances:

  • Runners on second and third with two out in the fourth, Jason Kipnis strikes out.
  • Runners on second and third with two out in the sixth, Javier Baez strikes out.
  • Billy Hamilton on second with two out in the eighth, Jason Heyward strikes out.
  • Nico Hoerner on second with two out in the ninth, Ian Happ strikes out.

Thanks, guys, for spreading the failure with RISP around, very generous of you (yes, that’s sarcasm). Overall the Cubs were 0-for-7 with RISP and left nine runners on base. And all of that against a starting pitcher, Trevor Williams, who had a 9.59 ERA in his previous five starts and had allowed 11 (!) home runs in 25⅓ innings in those outings. The problem, summed up in one tweet:

Oh, it gets worse.

In eight games since they scored 12 runs in Alec Mills’ no-hitter, the Cubs have scored 19 total runs. That’s... not good. They’ve allowed 23 runs in those eight games, which is very good. They’re 4-4 in those eight games, which at least isn’t awful, but that’s not going to be good enough if it continues through the final four games of the regular season and however many they play in the wild-card series next week.

You’ll note that I didn’t say “the wild card series at Wrigley Field” because at this point, even with a 3½-game lead in the NL Central, there’s no guarantee the Cubs will win the division and be the host team next week. Not the way they’ve been hitting, anyway. And they’ll need better starting pitching from anyone not named Kyle Hendricks or Yu Darvish:

That’s about enough regarding this game, I think. Let’s go over the Cubs’ postseason possibilities as of Thursday morning.

The Cardinals also lost Wednesday and as noted above, they’re 3½ games behind. The Cubs’ magic number for eliminating St. Louis is 3. It’s looking like the Cardinals might have to play their makeup doubleheader against the Tigers next Monday in Detroit to determine whether they play in the postseason. The Cardinals have at least five games remaining, all against the Brewers in St. Louis, beginning Thursday evening. Milwaukee, sitting 4½ games out of first place, still has a chance to finish second, but they’d probably have to win four of those five games.

The Reds won Wednesday and are also 3½ games behind the Cubs. The Cubs’ magic number for eliminating Cincinnati from the division race is 1, so if the Cubs win Thursday, the Reds (who are idle Thursday) cannot win the NL Central, though they would still have a pretty good chance of taking one of the two NL wild-card spots. The Reds have three games remaining, against the Twins in Minnesota, beginning Friday.

With Wednesday’s loss the Cubs dropped to two games behind the Braves for the No. 2 seed in the NL. The Cubs can still take that seed, but they’d have to go either 4-0 or 3-1 in the remaining games while the Braves go either 1-3 or 0-4, because with their win over the Marlins Wednesday, Atlanta clinched the NL East title and also the tiebreaker over the Cubs (intradivisional record, the Cubs are 22-17 within the NL Central and the Braves are 24-15 within the NL East, both with one divisional game remaining). More likely, if the Cubs do wind up winning the NL Central, they’ll be the No. 3 seed.

The Cubs will try to salvage a series split against the Pirates Thursday. Alec Mills gets the call for the Cubs and Chad Kuhl will start for the Bucs. A reminder, game time today was changed to 12:35 CT — it’s an afternoon game. TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (also on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories). Today’s game preview will post at 11 a.m. CT.