CHICAGO — One thing we’ve learned about the Chicago Cubs through five months of the season is they’re not easily pegged.
Sometimes they get good pitching and great defense, and other times they let the offense carry them. They’re strong enough to win consistently but have weaknesses that can be exploited if they don’t show up daily.
We’ve seen the bad Cubs enough to know what can happen. And we’ve seen them look like a team of destiny.
On a cool and crisp Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, the Cubs overcame a lack of hitting and two unforced errors to eke out a 3-2 win against the Milwaukee Brewers, their 17th victory in their last 23 one-run games.
That bodes well for the postseason — if the Cubs make it — because every game potentially can be won or lost on one play.
“That is how baseball is going to be played,” Cubs slugger Cody Bellinger said of October. “You’re going to have a variety of games. But to be in the position that we were just in multiple times against a really good team, it’s good to come out on top of those.”
The Cubs finished August with an 18-9 record, validating President Jed Hoyer’s decision to roll the dice on Bellinger, who could leave as a free agent after the season for nothing but a draft pick. It might have been the gutsiest move of the Hoyer era, showing faith in a team that just as easily could’ve gone the other direction, leaving him open to a cascade of criticism for not beefing up the farm system by dealing the top available hitter on the market.
Bellinger’s game-winning infield hit that deflected off the right ankle of reliever Joel Payamps in the eighth inning was the kind of luck the Cubs have been running into of late.
If the shot hadn’t hit Payamps, shortstop Willy Adames likely would’ve fielded it and thrown Bellinger out at first, keeping the game tied heading into the ninth. Had the Cubs lost, manager David Ross would’ve been asked about having Nico Hoerner bunt in the eighth.
Instead, everyone went home happy, and three hits were all the Cubs needed to pull out the series win.
Every team needs a little luck, and the best ones often create their own. That’s baseball.
In the first two months of the season the Cubs were 2-10 in one-run games. Who knows what might have happened had a couple of bounces gone their way in some of those losses?
Veteran Kyle Hendricks, who allowed one unearned run in six innings Wednesday, knows what it’s like to compete in a pennant race against the Brewers in a ballpark overflowing with history. When the Cubs needed him to be the Hendricks of old, he delivered in perhaps his biggest start since 2020.
“This is what it’s all about for every single guy in there,” Hendricks said. “We come to the ballpark every day (thinking) ‘What can I do to help the team today?’ Even if I’m not in there playing, just bringing energy or whatever it happens to be. Our leaders, those guys in the lineup, every single day, man, they just love going out there and playing baseball. And that trickles down to everybody else.”
The Brewers’ two aces, Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, held the Cubs to three runs on 11 hits over a combined 13 innings the last two days, but Justin Steele and Hendricks one-upped them. If the Cubs do make the postseason and meet the Brewers in the wild-card round, we’re likely to see those four starters again, perhaps in the same matchups.
Whoever wins the division would have a significant edge to start the postseason in October. The National League Central champions will be the No. 3 seed, giving them homefield advantage in all three potential games against the No. 6 seed, the third wild-card team.
The Cubs probably have a better chance of catching the Brewers than overtaking the Philadelphia Phillies for the No. 4 seed, and it could come down to the final three games of the season in Milwaukee. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the Brewers have clinched the division by then and the Cubs are assured of wild-card spot but can finish No. 5 or 6.
Would they be better off losing a game or two and falling to No. 6 to play the Brewers in Milwaukee in the first round instead of traveling to Philadelphia to take on the streaking Phillies? We all know how much Cubs fans like to travel up I-94 to visit the ballpark they call Wrigley North and what lengths the Brewers go to to keep tickets out of their hands.
There will be plenty of time to strategize by then, and the only focus is on winning the division. The Brewers have an easier schedule in September with 16 home games to only 13 for the Cubs, while nine of their remaining 13 road games are against the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees.
The Cubs have 13 home games and 16 road games in the final month, beginning with Friday’s doubleheader in Cincinnati. And 13 of those 16 road games are against playoff contenders in the Reds, Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves and the Brewers.
It figures to be a wild ending for the Cubs, who have put themselves in good position but need to prove they can close it out.
Getting to October would make the season a success. Anything after that is gravy.
It’s all in their hands now.