CHICAGO -- The Cubs could only watch as the Brewers celebrated winning the National League Central on Monday afternoon, capping an extended season by winning Game 163, 3-1, at Wrigley Field.The Cubs have yet to pop any champagne bottles, despite getting to the playoffs for the fourth straight season."Tomorrow," Anthony
CHICAGO -- The Cubs could only watch as the Brewers celebrated winning the National League Central on Monday afternoon, capping an extended season by winning Game 163, 3-1, at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs have yet to pop any champagne bottles, despite getting to the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
"Tomorrow," Anthony Rizzo said.
• NL Wild Card Game presented by Hankook Tire: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET/7 CT on ESPN
:: NL Wild Card Game presented by Hankook Tire: Tuesday on ESPN ::
That's because the Cubs aren't done. Tonight, they will host the NL Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field, facing the Rockies, who lost Monday's NL West tiebreaker to the Dodgers, 5-2, at Dodger Stadium.
"It's the seventh game of the World Series right out of the chute," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said about Tuesday's win-or-go-home showdown.
Monday's win was payback for the Brewers, who had a 5 1/2-game lead at the All-Star break last season but could only watch as the Cubs surged to win the division for the second year in a row. This year, Milwaukee rallied in the second half and secured the NL's No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
"Ultimately, it's about earning it," the Brewers' Ryan Braun said. "We've earned this as a group."
NL MVP Award candidate Christian Yelich went 3-for-4 with an RBI and Lorenzo Cain smacked a tiebreaking RBI single in the eighth inning to send Milwaukee to the NL Division Series. If the Cubs win Tuesday, they would face the Brewers in Game 1 at Miller Park on Thursday.
"I know we know how good Milwaukee is, and they were relentless," Maddon said. "Give Milwaukee some credit. They have a nice group. They match up well and their pitching is tough. Their bullpen is tough on everybody. We have to lick our wounds, come back tomorrow and we could get another shot at them."
If the Cubs get that shot, they'll want more from their offense than they got on Monday. Though starter Jose Quintana allowed only one run over five-plus innings, the Brewers outhit the Cubs, 12-3. They took a 1-0 lead against the lefty in the third on an RBI single from Yelich. Rizzo tied the game leading off the fifth with his 25th home run, a 110.6 mph rocket, according to Statcast™, that drew a curtain call from the crowd of 38,450 at Wrigley.
"I don't know," Rizzo said when asked about the lack of offense. "Guys have really good routines, preparation, going over the starting pitchers, going over the bullpens. We're engaged on the bench. Sometimes you're hot, sometimes you're not."
Now is not the time to cool off.
"You want a chance to play with higher stakes," Jason Heyward said. "I think that's what we thrive on. That's what we'll keep trying to do and keep playing the game as the stakes get higher."
In the end, it came down to the best bullpen matchups, and the Brewers definitely had the edge. Milwaukee's 'pen came into the game with a 1.93 ERA over the past 28 games; Chicago's relievers had a 4.02 ERA in the past 31 games.
The game was tied at 1 in the eighth when Justin Wilson took over. Orlando Arcia hit a slider off the lefty and reached third on pinch-hitter Domingo Santana's double. Steve Cishek came on next, and Cain gave the Brewers the lead with an RBI single off the righty. Lefty Randy Rosario was called on to face Yelich and struck him out on an 87-mph cutter. Braun followed with an RBI single, but he was caught stealing at second as catcher Willson Contreras and shortstop Javier Baez combined on the play.
"We'd like to have one pitch back to Arcia -- that kind of set the whole thing up," Maddon said. "We just made some bad pitches at the wrong time to him, but to [Arcia's] credit, he took advantage of it. That's what happens at this time of the year in the playoffs. Somebody who has not been on the radar screen all of a sudden pops."
Cishek was mad at himself about Cain's at-bat.
"I didn't do my job," Cishek said. "I felt I made a pretty good niche getting out of jams this year. Just to come up short, especially at that point in the season, it's tough. … At the end of the day, we still have more games to play. Thankfully, we've played well enough to have the season continue on."
What gives the Cubs confidence that their season won't end on Tuesday?
"Jonathan Lester," Cishek said.
Lester, an 18-game winner, will start the NL Wild Card Game, and Cole Hamels will be available in the bullpen.
"You know with Jon Lester on the mound, he'll bring his 'A' game," Kristopher Bryant said. "There's some comfort on our side knowing he's taking the mound tomorrow."
The Cubs last went to the NL Wild Card Game in 2015, Maddon's first year in Chicago, and got a huge assist from Jacob Arrieta, who threw a shutout against the Pirates to advance. They much preferred how things worked out in 2016, when they finished with the best record in the NL and had home-field advantage through the NL Championship Series before winning the World Series.
"It's like 2015, playing a Wild Card," Bryant said. "I think there's a lot of guys in here who have experience in that area. We've played in a lot more pressure games with this organization, so we'll go out there and lean on our experience and hopefully that's enough."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hardball: The Brewers were making solid contact against Quintana, and it paid off in the third. Arcia singled to lead off (100.3 mph exit velocity) and moved up on Jhoulys Chacin's sacrifice. Arcia advanced on Cain's groundout and then scored on Yelich's single to center (98.7 mph). Before the game, Maddon emphasized the need to avoid having runners on base whenever Yelich came up, even though he was 1-for-11 against Quintana in his career. It's been a magical season for Yelich, who was 3-for-3 off Quintana and finished one RBI and one home run short of winning the first NL Triple Crown in 81 years.
"We weren't striking the ball with any kind of consistency," Maddon said. "I thought we were pretty fortunate. I thought they were hitting the balls hard, but they were making outs vs. Quintana."
Right place, right time: Yelich led off the sixth with his third single, and that was it for Quintana, who was lifted after throwing 64 pitches. Teams have had success against the lefty the third time through the order, batting .326. Jesse Chavez was called on to face Braun, who was 5-for-8 with two home runs against the right-hander, but Chavez struck him out and got Jesus Aguilar to hit into an inning-ending double play.
"Jesse's amazing," Cishek said of Chavez, who joined the Cubs on July 21 following a trade with the Rangers. "As soon as he came over here, he's been a huge impact and not only just going in for an inning, he's able to go multiple. The way he pounds the zone and keeps guys uncomfortable, it's contagious."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Rizzo's home run not only tied the game, it game him 101 RBIs on the season. Think he was pumped? The blast had an exit velocity of 110.6 mph and traveled 429 feet, according to Statcast™, making it his second-hardest and fourth-longest long ball of the season.
• Rizzo's homer electrifies Wrigley
Rizzo faced Josh Hader representing the tying run in the ninth and flied out to Keon Broxton in right field to end the game. Rizzo is the only left-handed batter to hit a home run off Hader this season, doing so on Sept. 3 at Miller Park.
"Adrenaline took over," Hader said. "There's no tank, there's no gauge for that. I just made it happen. [Rizzo] has been a good at-bat. It was nice to have him for that last out to take it."
HE SAID IT
"They won one more game -- it took 163 games to figure it out." -- Heyward
Lester (18-6, 3.32 ERA) will make his 22nd postseason start on Tuesday at Wrigley Field. The left-hander has been the workhorse for the Cubs, and this season marks the fifth in a row in which he's made at least 32 starts. Lester is 7-4 with a 3.32 ERA at home. The left-hander has started the first game of a postseason series 10 times and has started one Wild Card Game, for the Athletics on Sept. 30, 2014, against the Royals. He gave up six runs in 7 1/3 innings but did not get a decision, as the game went 12 innings.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.