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Cubs 4, Phillies 2: Christopher Morel’s three-run homer is the difference

... as the Cubs won their second straight over the contending Phillies.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs are going home next week when the 2022 season ends and watch the postseason on TV like the players on 18 other MLB teams.

But they appear to be having fun this series, wreaking a bit of havoc on the Phillies’ wild card chances.

For the second straight night, the Cubs got good starting pitching and solid relief work. A three-run homer by Christopher Morel provided the eventual winning runs and the Cubs knocked off the Phillies 4-2.

Hayden Wesneski wasn’t quite as dominant as he had been in previous starts. There was a lot of traffic on the bases for the Phillies in the first four innings, and they managed to take the lead in the third because Kyle Schwarber, who had been hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a single, stole third base. Kyle must be picking his spots well for that, because that was his ninth steal of the year in 10 attempts, both of those career highs by a significant margin. Regarding that steal:

Anyway, Schwarber then scored on a sac fly by Bryce Harper to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

The Cubs were stymied by Aaron Nola over the first four innings with Esteban Quiroz the only baserunner in that period, on a first-inning single. But then they turned the offense on in the bottom of the fifth.

Nico Hoerner led off with a single and stole second. He went to third on a single by Patrick Wisdom and scored on this fielder’s choice by Yan Gomes [VIDEO].

That tied the game 1-1. The next hitter was Alfonso Rivas, who was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second with one out.

Morel was next. He ran the count full and then cleared the bases [VIDEO].

As you can see in the clip, Nola got a fastball too high up in the zone and Morel pounced on it for his 16th home run and second in as many days. After a prolonged slump, Morel has begun to hit again. It would be great to see him finish the season on a high note. Over his last eight games, Morel is 5-for-17 — but with all the hits for extra bases, two doubles and three home runs.

Wesneski allowed a leadoff single in the sixth and that was it for him. Ross, on Wesneski’s start:

That’s a real credit to Wesneski, who threw well on a night when he didn’t have his best stuff.

Mark Leiter Jr. relieved Wesneski. Leiter, who’s been very good in relief lately, retired the next three hitters, two by strikeout, to end the inning. Unfortunately, he got hit in the seventh, allowing a leadoff double to Schwarber, a single to Rhys Hoskins and an RBI groundout by Harper that made it 4-2. Adbert Alzolay replaced Leiter and finished off the inning with a line drive to Quiroz and a strikeout.

In the eighth, Alzolay allowed two hits sandwiched around a strikeout and Ross summoned Brandon Hughes, who struck out pinch-hitter Matt Vierling and Schwarber to end the inning.

The Cubs had resumed their batting slumber after the four-run fourth — again only one baserunner after that, a leadoff single by Rivas in the seventh. So the game went to the ninth with the Cubs maintaining a two-run lead. Hughes allowed a leadoff single to Hoskins, then struck out Harper. With righthanded hitters due up, Ross brought in Manuel Rodriguez, who had dispatched the Phillies quickly in the series opener.

ManRod got J.T. Realmuto to hit a soft line drive to short for the second out. Here’s the final out of the game [VIDEO].

The clip from NBC Sports Philadelphia above is the only one that was available to me to show you that final out, but Phillies TV announcer Tom McCarthy is correct. The Phillies’ loss plus the Brewers’ win over the Cardinals Wednesday brought Milwaukee to within half a game of Philadelphia for the NL’s final wild card spot. So the Cubs could continue to have some influence over that race when they play the series finale at Wrigley Field Thursday afternoon. The Brewers open a four-game series against the Marlins at Milwaukee Thursday evening, so they’ll no doubt be paying careful attention to Thursday afternoon’s game at Wrigley, which will feature Javier Assad going for the Cubs and lefthander Ranger Suarez for the Phillies.

The Cubs must now go just 4-3 in their final seven games to avoid a 90-loss season.

Thursday’s game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and also on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Phillies market territories).