Cubs move to one back of Bucs for home field
MILWAUKEE -- The Cubs put pressure on the Pirates, winning their 96th game on Saturday night with a 1-0 decision over the Brewers. Whether or not the Cubs will play host to the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser or go to Pittsburgh on Wednesday will be decided on the final day of the regular season.
The Pirates began Saturday with a two-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Wild Card standings with two games remaining, but lost to the Reds to reduce their lead to one game. A Pirates' win on Sunday would mean Wednesday's NL Wild Card Game will be at PNC Park. But if the Pirates lose to the Reds, and the Cubs beat the Brewers, the Wild Card Game will be played at Wrigley Field because Chicago won the season series, 11-8.
Both teams will face rookie starting pitchers on Sunday. The Pirates will face right-hander Josh Smith (0-3, 7.22 ERA), with J.A. Happ (10-8, 3.74) taking the hill, while the Cubs will face right-hander Jorge Lopez (1-0, 5.40), making his second career start. Dan Haren (10-9, 3.67) goes for Chicago. Both games begin at 2:05 p.m. CT.
The Cubs delayed opening the clubhouse Saturday so players could watch the end of the Pirates-Reds game, and celebrate how far they've come.
"That's why you keep playing," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "You stay focused on the day and you take care of your own business, and if you do that, you get to tomorrow with an opportunity to do something really cool. … Everybody's fresh. We've been playing it straight up. Tomorrow we'll do it again."
Maddon had considered a Spring Training-like setup Sunday with starters being pulled after a couple of at-bats. Not any more. However, he still believes the Cubs can win the Wild Card Game no matter where they play.
"For me, it's all about our fans," Maddon said. "To be able to [play at home] is all about the fans, No. 1."
Saturday's win was the seventh in a row for the Cubs, and featured another stellar outing by their starting pitcher. Kyle Hendricks retired the first 16 batters before Martin Maldonado singled with one out in the sixth. That was the only hit off the Cubs right-hander. Chicago starting pitchers have given up one earned run over 45 1/3 innings in the last seven games.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Game saver: The Brewers didn't collect their second hit of the game until the eighth inning, when Hernan Perez's single put runners at first and third with only one out. Maldonado followed with a ground ball to the left of third baseman Kris Bryant, who initiated an inning-ending, lead-saving double play. First baseman Anthony Rizzo completed the play with a sweet scoop of Javier Baez's one-hop throw, denying the Brewers a tie.
"How about the play by Rizzo on the back side?" Maddon said. "Riz made a couple really good plays today and the last couple days. He's really done a nice job of picking up our infielders all year long. That was a fabulous play."
Near cycle: Chris Coghlan, who has seen his playing time reduced as the Cubs look at Kyle Schwarber in the outfield, tripled with one out in the second and scored on Addison Russell's single for a 1-0 lead. Coghlan's hit off Brewers rookie starter Tyler Wagner snapped an 0-for-17 skid. He wasn't finished. Coghlan doubled with two outs in the fourth, and singled with one out in the sixth, but he struck out in the eighth with a chance to complete the cycle.
Great escape: The Cubs were positioned to blow the game open in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases with one out and Kris Bryant and Rizzo due to bat. Facing each hitter for the third time in the game, Wagner held firm, getting Bryant to offer awkwardly at a breaking ball in the dirt for a strikeout, and Rizzo to roll over a cutter for a groundout to first base. Both batters remained stuck at 99 RBIs, while Wagner and the Brewers remained within striking distance, down 1-0. Wagner allowed one run in six innings for the best outing of his three Major League starts.
"It was an important outing for him," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell of Wagner, who led the Double-A Southern League with a 2.25 ERA but had struggled in the Majors. "He can know that when he's on his game, it works. This was a big confidence builder for him."
Start me up: In his first full season, Hendricks finished with a 3.95 ERA in 32 starts, notching his 11th quality start. He had better command of his sinker, and finished one strikeout shy of matching his career high.
"It was nice to end with [a sub 4.00 ERA] even with the frustration [of the season]," Hendricks said. "There's a little silver lining. I've got a lot of motivation to go into next year. There are a lot of things I know I need to work on in the offseason, not only with my body but my pitching, too."
"I haven't decided on that yet. Frankly, there's so many new faces in there, I just walked through there and I didn't recognize many of our new players. That's certainly a new experience for me in 11 seasons." -- Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, asked whether he planned to address the team on Sunday More >
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• The Cubs have won 96 games for the first time since they finished 97-64 in 2008, which was the last time they made the postseason.
• The Brewers were shut out for the 16th time, matching the 2004 club for second-highest total in franchise history. The 1972 Brewers were shut out a club-record 20 times.
• This was the Cubs' 21st shutout of the season, their highest total since totaling 22 in 1969.
Counsell lost his challenge in the second inning after Counsell asked for a second look at Wagner's pickoff attempt of Russell at first base. The original safe call held, which loomed large in the fifth when Counsell was unable to challenge Dexter Fowler's infield hit. It appeared Fowler might have been out, but the hit helped the Cubs load the bases.
Cubs: Haren may be making the last start of his Major League career. The right-hander has said he will likely retire after this season, He has a 152-131 career record, and is 3-2 with a 4.30 ERA in 11 starts with the Cubs. This will be Chicago's final tuneup before Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser. First pitch is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. CT at Miller Park.
Brewers: Honored on the field Saturday evening as the Brewers' Minor League pitcher of the year, 22-year-old Lopez will take the mound at Miller Park on Sunday afternoon to start the season finale. It will be Lopez's second Major League start; he won his debut in San Diego last week.
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