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Eye on the enemy: What to look out for in Cubs’ final series against Brewers

10 months agoJake Mozarsky

The Cubs enter the final three games of the season while in the thick of the NL playoff race. Each game will be important to whether Chicago is playing baseball past Sunday, and their last series is against a familiar foe: the Milwaukee Brewers. 

Milwaukee, though it has already clinched the NL Central, will be a tough test for the Cubs. Division games are hard no matter who is out there on the other side for the Brewers.

Before the series gets underway, here are a few things to look out for.

Expect the unexpected

If this season’s past series are any indication, the Cubs and Brewers will exchange metaphorical punches over the next few days and it will be exciting.

The Cubs are 5-5 against the Brewers this season — they lost the opening series 2 games to 1, split a 4-game set in Milwaukee in July and took 2 of 3 from the Brewers at Wrigley Field in late August — and many of the games have been nail-biter wins filled with big moments.

Of the 5 games the Cubs won, 3 of them came with go-ahead hits in the 8th inning or later: Nico Hoerner hit an infield single to give Chicago a 4-3 lead in the 11th inning at Milwaukee on July 4, the Cubs came back from a 3-1 deficit in the top of the 9th on July 5 and Cody Bellinger broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 8th at Wrigley Field on Aug. 30. There were also exciting moments on defense, such as Ian Happ throwing runners out at home in both the 10th and 11th inning on July 4, leading to a Cubs victory.

The Brewers also rallied against the Cubs this season, as out of their 5 wins this year, 4 were comeback wins. This includes scoring 3 in the 8th from Jesse Winker and William Contreras to win 3-1 in the second game of the season, coming back from a 6-run deficit on July 3 to take the opening game in Milwaukee and three days later Victor Caratini hit a go-ahead homer in the 8th and the Brewers won 6-5.

Going into the series, expect some back-and-forth and both teams won’t lie down.

Will the Brewers be resting?

Milwaukee already clinched the NL Central a few days ago and have the worst record of the three NL division winners, so they will be playing in the NL Wild Card Series starting Tuesday. In this final series against the Cubs, they do not have much to play for. 

This means the Brewers will be resting some key players. It’s already been announced that top pitchers Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta all will not start this weekend. Colin Rea (6-6, 4.74 ERA) is on the bump Friday and Adrian Houser (7-5, 4.32 ERA) will pitch against Justin Steele in the regular season finale while Saturday’s starter is unknown.

On offense, will the Brewers be resting top hitters, such as Willy Adames, Christian Yelich and William Contreras? It is yet to be determined, but there is the possibility that Milwaukee does not play their top players this series in anticipation of the postseason, which starts Tuesday night. Yelich, in particular, has missed a good portion of September due to a back injury.

The Brewers also have one slight (but major) thing to play for, which is knocking the Cubs out of playoff contention. If the Cubs clinch the playoffs, they would play the Brewers in the NL Wild Card round and Milwaukee can end these hopes by winning the series. If manager Craig Counsell would rather play Miami or Cincinnati (the other two teams competing for the last spot in the postseason) than the Cubs, he might trot out his best lineup. 

Milwaukee’s plan will be revealed when the lineup comes out for each game.

Who will step up for the Cubs?

After a mid-week sweep in Atlanta, the Cubs need to win their final series to have any hope of making it to the postseason. During this final stretch, the Cubs need their stars to contribute to win – players like Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson, Seiya Suzuki, Cody Bellinger and Ian Happ. Besides the stars, the Cubs will need contributions from role players, whether that’s Christopher Morel, Mike Tauchman or someone else. The Brewers are resting their best pitchers and Chicago needs to seize that opportunity.

Pitching-wise, the Cubs will roll out Kyle Hendricks, Jordan Wicks and Justin Steele for this series and will enter the weekend with an advantage on the mound. Hendricks, Wicks and Steele all had decent outings, allowing 3 runs or less, in their last starts and the Cubs’ hope is they replicate this.

If the Cubs’ playoff fate comes down to the last day, Steele has to show what made him a NL Cy Young candidate this year.

Help is on the way

Chicago will also be getting some major help in the bullpen: Adbert Alzolay is expected to be activated from the injured list Friday. Before Alzolay was placed on the injured list with a strained forearm on Sept. 11, he was leading the MLB in saves after the All-Star break. The Cubs are dealing with a lot of injuries from relievers, including Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger, and Alzolay will be a huge morale boost for a bullpen that has needed some help.

Alzolay has 15 saves in the second half of the season and was a major reason why the Cubs were one of the hottest teams in MLB for two months. He has not pitched since Sept. 9 and the electricity he brings has been missed. 

The Cubs need to win, and root for the Pirates

Last, and definitely not least, is that there is still everything to play for over these next three games. The Cubs are competing with the Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds for the final Wild Card spot, and assuming they are able to stay in front of the Reds, Chicago needs to win at least 2 more games than the Marlins to make the postseason. The Marlins have 4 more games remaining, including one final half-inning at Citi Field against the Mets on Tuesday after Thursday night’s game was suspended due to bad weather.

The Cubs need help to make the second season. Here are the potential paths:

  • If Chicago sweeps Milwaukee, Miami needs to go 2-2
  • If Chicago goes 2-1, Miami needs to go 1-3
  • If Chicago goes 1-2, Miami needs to lose all 4 games

Cubs fans, it’s time to embrace the unfamiliar: root for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who play the Marlins in their final series starting Friday night. The Pirates are out of contention, but have shown signs of progress over the last month. Some Cubs wins combined with Pirates wins will be the easiest way to the postseason.

Now, it’s time to see how it all unfolds for the Cubs.

 

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