'You've got to clear it': Cubs look to shake off sweep

September 18th, 2023

PHOENIX -- If the season ended today, the Cubs would be watching the playoffs from the comfort of their own homes.

When Chicago began a crucial 10-game stretch on Sept. 7, it sat in the second NL Wild Card spot, with a three-game cushion over the D-backs. It trailed the No. 1 Wild Card Phillies by two games.

But after the Cubs took a 6-2 loss to the D-backs on Sunday night under the roof at Chase Field, the finale of a three-game sweep, that cushion has vanished. Chicago took its eighth loss in 10 games. Six of those losses came against Arizona.

  • Games remaining (12): vs. PIT (3), vs. COL (3), at ATL (3), at MIL (3).
  • Standings update: With the loss to Arizona, the Cubs fell out of not only the second NL Wild Card spot but the third. Chicago has the same record as Miami, but the Marlins have the tiebreaker over the Cubs, meaning that if the season ended today, the Cubs would not make the playoffs. The Cubs have won the tiebreaker over San Francisco, but lost it to Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Arizona.

“We weren’t very good,” said manager David Ross. “They were better than we were [in] all aspects of the game. They played better defense, pitched better, timed their hitting and ran the bases better. Just got beat all the way around. Bad road trip -- trying to wash everything off with the off-day tomorrow and get back at it on Tuesday.”

With two weeks left in the season, considering how tight the Wild Card race is, Chicago can’t afford any more inconsistent outings from its starters or poor performances on offense.

The good news for the Cubs is that they’ll hop on a flight back to Chicago and take a day off on Monday, then begin a six-game homestand against the Pirates and Rockies, both of whom have records under .500.

“It's tough,” said rookie starter . “But we can't sit here and dwell on it too long. We’ve got to get back home, regroup and get ready for Pittsburgh.”

Wicks went 4 1/3 innings -- the shortest outing of his young career -- giving up three runs on four hits and four walks. It was his fifth start, and the toughest one so far. The left-hander allowed all three runs in the first inning, two on sacrifice flies and one on an RBI double from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Wicks was able to regain his composure the rest of the way, but the damage was done.

“I honestly felt like my stuff was really good,” Wicks said. “I was happy with the shapes we had. I felt like the balls were coming out good; I feel like a couple of things didn't go our way. That was the most of it.

“For me, I’ve got to attack a little bit more, be a little more aggressive in the zone. Had some walks I shouldn't have. That's on me. I’ve just got to be better in that area.”

One rough outing by Wicks should not cause any panic. Before Sunday, he had not allowed more than two runs in a start, and had pitched as deep as 6 2/3 innings. He has three wins since his debut on Aug. 26. For someone who celebrated his 24th birthday on Sept. 1, Wicks has shown himself to be reliable even in the middle of a playoff push.

“It's just taking it one day at a time,” Wicks said. “I feel like I should have pitched better. I could have put my team in a better position. There's no time to dwell on it. You’ve got to clear it -- flush it and it's on to the next one.”

The Cubs, however, are going to need to pick it up on offense. On Sunday, they went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The top of the lineup did its job, as Ian Happ finished 3-for-4 with one run scored and Nico Hoerner reached base twice. But the middle of the order -- Christopher Morel, Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson -- went 1-for-11. Swanson had the lone hit, his first of the series. He finished 1-for-14 over the three games.

“It definitely hasn’t been ideal,” Bellinger said. “It's been frustrating. I think overall, the past week there's been a lot of unfortunate bounces, and as a whole, pretty disappointing. But looking at the future, still in a good spot. Good amount of games left to play, and just trust the group in here and myself to continue to roll and hopefully get on a hot little stretch.

“Looking forward, we all had to understand the amazing baseball we played to even put us in this position. Obviously, we didn’t have some stuff going our way the past week, but understanding we're the same team that was balling for over a month and a half. So just continue rolling out there and trusting the guys around us.”