Don't look now, but the Cubs may be in trouble

by - Columnist -
The Cubs are struggling offensively (Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports)
The Cubs are struggling offensively (Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports)

The other day I wrote about the Cubs’ likelihood of clinching a playoff spot. Check. Then I wrote that mathematically, they should take three out of four in Pittsburgh, clinching the NL Central. Mayday. I only got to see the first game of the series on Friday, then caught the last two innings of last night’s game, but this certainly did not go as planned. No, quite the opposite as the Cubs dropped three of four to the Pirates.

So now what? The final three games (beginning tonight) are against the White Sox, as an added bonus their playing at Guaranteed Rate Field. As you’ll recall, the Cubs lost their playoff bid last year in the final week, and now - although they’ll get at least a wild card spot, are in danger of losing the NL Central crown this weekend. You may think, “No big deal,” after all, they’re still in the playoffs,” but that changes the seeding, which may turn into a very big deal for the Northside Nine.

After winning game one in Pittsburgh by a final of 5-0, the Cubs offense went on some sort of respite, as the Bucs outscored them 12-3 over the last three days. I said a few days ago that all the Pirates could do was act as spoilers for the Cubs at this point, and low and behold, that’s just what they did.

So where do the Cubs stand now? Well, they hold a 2.5 game lead over the Cards, who have a doubleheader to play (currently not scheduled) against the Tigers, should they need it for the standings. In the meantime, they face the Brewers in a doubleheader tonight, then play singles games against them again tomorrow and on Sunday. That gives the Cards a total of three games in hand over Chicago, so even if the Cubs were to win-out against the White Sox (which is highly unlikely), the Cards have a chance to overcome the lead, provided they were to win out over the Brew Crew, then sweep Detroit.

If the Cubs lose two of the three to the Sox, or - God forbid- fare even worse, St. Louis could feasibly be in a position to own the NL Central title by as early as Sunday, without ever seeing the unscheduled doubleheader against the Tigers. I’d say the Sox have been on a skid, going 3-7 over their last ten games, but then again, I said the same of Pittsburgh earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati who is now 8-2 over their last 10 games, is now lurking in the shadows (and up +.5 games in the wild card hunt), has a chance to improve their seed. There are still a total of four spots to be had for October in the NL Central, meanwhile, the AL has just one vacancy left. I wouldn’t count the Brewers out just yet, but St. Louis seems to have this nasty habit of turning it on hot and heavy when it matters - something the Cubs have failed to do as of late.

David Ross was dealt a losing hand to start this season with, but he’s done tremendously well considering he was a brand new manager and had no bullpen strength at all when the season began. Good news, the Cubs’ bullpen has been tops in the NL in September; bad news, the offense has disappeared. When you have speedster Billy Hamilton and can’t score runs, something isn’t right. To (literally) add insult to injury, Ian Happ is now dealing with an ankle issue.

The Cubs are doing a lot better (in terms of winning percentage) than they were last year at this point. They currently stand at 32-25 (.561), while last year at this time they were in third place, 7-½ games out, with a record of 82-75 (.522).

I’m not sure what the Cubs do to get this team firing on all cylinders for the final three games of the year, but they better figure it out. I know in my heart that this is it for the core, and it’d sure nice to see them go out with at least another NL Central Division title, if not an NL Championship. The odds are pretty well stacked against them advancing beyond the NLCS, but hey, stranger things have happened.

Let’s be optimistic, although perhaps cautiously. As I’ve said a thousand times, I’m a fan, but I’m also a realist, and right now, it’d hard to see anyone getting past the Dodgers or San Diego. First things first, however, for now, it’s time to try and win the division.

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