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The Cubs control their own playoff destiny thanks to the schedule

It should set up a truly wild month of baseball to close out 2023

Seiya Suzuki after hitting a double against the Pirates
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Wrigley Field was rocking this week as the Cubs managed to eke out two wins against the division leading Brewers to cut their deficit in the NL Central down to three games. Fans were on their feet with two strikes out in the first and they were in a frenzy singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” with the Cubs up one in the eighth on Tuesday night. As Adbert Alzolay entered the games on Tuesday and Wednesday, fully equipped with a hype video that you can’t help but clap along to, it felt like October in August.

While the Cubs helped their chances of playing in October over this short three-game stint, it is still not guaranteed. They are currently two games ahead of the San Francisco Giants and in sole possession of the second wild card. FanGraphs has upped their odds of playing in the postseason to 77.4 percent:

Cubs playoff odds as of 8.31

Their odds of winning the division are on the rise as well. While they are not quite at a season high given Milwaukee’s recent win streak, taking the last two from the Brewers put the Cubs at a slightly better than one in five chance to win the NL Central outright:

Cubs chances to win the NL Central as of 8.31

But the standings are tight, both in the division and in the National League Wild Card race. Six teams are currently within three games of a Wild Card spot, and as luck would have it, the Cubs schedule is set up so that they play five teams with October hopes and dreams in their final 29 games of the season. So today I wanted to take a look at those remaining series, because they will make or break the Cubs postseason plans.

Cincinnati Reds

The Cubs have four games left against an insurgent Reds team that no one really expected to be this good this fast. The Reds are young, fun and do not care that they might be crashing the postseason party. They’ve also cooled off a bit as of late, going 10-17 in August, but they are still right in the hunt. They are four games behind the Cubs in the loss column and could make up all of that ground this weekend if the Cubs take their foot off the gas. The Cubs are 4-5 against the Reds so far in 2023.

San Francisco Giants

It does not get any easier on Labor Day when the Giants head to Wrigley for a three-game series. If the playoffs started today, the Giants would take the third Wild Card spot. They are two games behind the Cubs in the loss column and are also hoping for a rebound after a mediocre 11-15 record in August.

The Cubs took two of three from the Giants in San Francisco earlier this season. Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks won their starts. Hendricks flirted with a no-hitter, throwing 7⅔ innings before surrendering his lone hit of the game, a double by Mitch Haniger. Hayden Wesneski was not so lucky in his start, surrendering five runs in three innings and taking the loss in a game where the Cubs would ultimately give up 13 runs. The Giants have no shot at winning the division (really, 0.0% according to FanGraphs) but you know they’d love to move up the Wild Card standings by taking the series from the Cubs at Wrigley:

NL West Division odds as of 8.31

Arizona Diamondbacks

One playoff hopeful the Cubs have not seen yet this season is the Arizona Diamondbacks, who will head to the Friendly Confines for four games right after the Giants series. If you’re keeping track at home, yes, that means the next 11 games are all head-to-head matchups with teams trying to chase down the Cubs for the Wild Card. Wild, indeed.

Arizona is currently half a game behind the San Francisco Giants for the third Wild Card spot and one-game back in the loss column. They have a vibe similar to the Reds with lots of stunning young talent and not enough pitching. They’ve faded a bit in August with a 12-15 record, but are still right in the thick of it. You can see the complete NL West playoff odds according to FanGraphs below:

NL West playoff odds

After a quick trip to Colorado, the Cubs will head to Arizona for a three-game series. Yes, you read that right. They have seven games left against a team that is merely three games behind them for a Wild Card spot. And yes, that means that 14 of the Cubs’ next 17 games are against Wild Card hopefuls.

Atlanta Braves

That would honestly be enough drama all on its own, but whoever put together the Cubs schedule decided to save the most brutal stretch for last. The Cubs will get a quick homestand against the Pirates and the Rockies before they head to Atlanta to face the best team in baseball for three games in their penultimate series of the year. This series could have weird vibes, truth be told. It’s possible the Cubs will have played themselves into a division lead by this point, it’s possible they will have played themselves out of contention by this point. It’s possible these games could mean absolutely everything to a Cubs team wanting to make the playoffs for the first time in three years while being totally meaningless to a Braves team that has a 100 percent chance to not just make the playoffs but win the division:

NL East division odds 8.31

Milwaukee Brewers

Because baseball in September is undefeated in terms of the amount of drama you can pack into a non-playoff environment, the Cubs will finish their season at Wrigley North for their final three games against the Brewers. The division and the Wild Card could both be up for grabs in those last three games and Cubs vs. Brewers games have had a penchant for drama in recent years. In fact, you can trace the Cubs current run and decision not to sell at the trade deadline to the drama-filled series they split with the Brewers over the Fourth of July weekend. The Cubs entered the ballpark for that series 38-44 and have gone an astounding 33-18 since.


The Cubs have 29 baseball games after today’s off day, and 20 of them are against teams with a realistic shot to play in October. Of those 20 games, 17 are against teams the Cubs are either chasing in the standings or trying to stave off. I’m not sure if my heart can take the drama that is about to unfold, but I’ll take the roller coaster of stress-filled scoreboard watching in September over another losing season any day.