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White Sox 9, Cubs 5: Backing in

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The Cubs lost, but clinched the NL Central title anyway.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Cubs took a big early lead Saturday against the White Sox, but couldn’t hold it and lost 9-5. During the game, the Brewers completed a win over the Cardinals, which clinched the 2020 NL Central title for the Cubs. Here’s the low-key “celebration” in the Cubs dugout after that happened [VIDEO].

So, yay?

It doesn’t matter how you get into the postseason, they say. The records reset to 0-0 when the postseason starts, they say. You just have to get hot at the right time, they say.

Let’s hope “they” are correct.

This game started out well. Jon Lester threw an easy first inning and the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. That was given right back in the bottom of the inning on a home run by James McCann, and a second run keyed by a stolen base by Luis Robert.

In the third, though, the Cubs appeared to break the game open. They loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter, and two outs later Kris Bryant stepped to the plate [VIDEO].

That was a welcome sight for many reasons. First, KB had missed four games with oblique tightness. Second, the Cubs have been mostly awful this year with the bases loaded. Bryant’s homer was just their second grand slam of this season. Check out the launch angle and distance:

Also, KB has a message for those of you who don’t think he’s a clutch hitter, or criticize him for getting hurt too often:

Well then.

Anyway, Bryant’s slam gave the Cubs a 5-2 lead, but it did not last very long. Lester got himself in trouble with a couple of walks in the fourth, and a one-out single made it 5-3. Lester recovered to strike out Tim Anderson, but then issued another walk, forcing in a run to make it 5-4, and David Ross replaced him with Ryan Tepera.

Tepera was one strike away from getting out of the inning, but on a 2-2 cutter, Jose Abreu cleared the bases with a double and the Sox led 7-5, all the runs charged to Lester.

That was essentially it, except for a two-run homer by Yoan Moncada in the sixth off Jason Adam. The Cubs had only two more baserunners after Bryant’s slam: Ian Happ singled leading off the fifth, and Cameron Maybin walked leading off the seventh. The latter happened after Ross cleared his bench, giving several regulars the rest of the night off after the division clinching. I hope the last six innings with pretty much zero offense wasn’t a hint of things to come.

Jeremy Jeffress and Craig Kimbrel threw scoreless innings in relief, so that’s good. Kimbrel, in particular, continued his recent dominance: in eight September outings covering 7⅓ innings, he has allowed three hits, no walks and no runs (0.00 ERA, 0.409 WHIP) and struck out 13... that’s 13 K’s among 24 batters faced. He’s struck out at least two in 12 of his 18 appearances this season. I’d say he’s back to being the dominant guy the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him. They’re going to need that this October.

And about Jon Lester, I wouldn’t worry too much about him starting postseason games, unless the Cubs make it to the World Series and play the White Sox again. Here’s why:

Lester vs. White Sox, 2020: two starts, 7⅓ innings, 15 hits, 15 earned runs, five HR, 18.41 ERA, 2.455 WHIP
Lester vs. all other teams, 2020: 10 starts, 53⅔ innings, 49 hits, 20 earned runs, six HR, 3.35 ERA, 1.193 WHIP

So against the Sox, he’s the worst pitcher in baseball. They crush lefthanders in general, and they have crushed Jon in particular. But against everyone else, he appears to still be a perfectly competent MLB starter. I would have no issue at all with seeing Jon start Game 3 (if needed) in the wild-card series, or against other teams in the NL playoffs if the Cubs proceed past the first round.

The Cubs are locked into the No. 3 seed with the division title. They will thus play the No. 6 NL seed in a best-of-three wild-card series beginning Wednesday (time TBD) at Wrigley Field. As of Sunday morning, the Marlins inhabit that spot. But the Cardinals or Reds could also claim the No. 6 seed, per this article, and there are still multiple scenarios for quite a number of the NL postseason spots, according to this article. You will have to read those to understand the possibilities, they’re way too complicated to reproduce here. It’s still possible that the Cardinals will have to play their makeup doubleheader against the Tigers in Detroit Monday under one of those scenarios.

I will say that I think I’d prefer the Cubs play the Marlins. I don’t really want the Cubs to have to face that Reds rotation, especially with that team as hot as it is (they’ve won 10 of their last 13), and the Cardinals... no, just no, not this year, anyway, not in the first round.

Meanwhile, the White Sox have quite a bit at stake Sunday. The first link above indicates that the Sox, who have already qualified for the postseason, could be either the No. 2, No. 3 or No. 7 seed, depending on what the Twins, Indians and Athletics do Sunday, in addition to the result of the Cubs/Sox game Sunday afternoon. (Again, read the link above, way too messy for me to delve into here.)

Adbert Alzolay will take the mound for the Cubs Sunday afternoon. He’ll face Sox righthander Reynaldo Lopez. Game time is 2:10 p.m. CT. TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network. It’ll also be on NBC Sports Chicago with the Sox announcers, and there’s a national broadcast on TBS (outside the Cubs and White Sox market territories) with Joe Simpson and Ron Darling as announcers. Today’s game preview will post at 12 noon CT.