CHICAGO – Throughout their history, the Cubs have found new and interesting ways to let postseason opportunities slip through their fingers.
They’re not dead yet for 2019, but it’s getting close, and if they do fail to make it to October, they can add September to their lore.
On a drizzly Sunday with already enough to unpack, from it being the final regular-season game at Wrigley Field to manager Joe Maddon’s job status, a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals put one more crushing touch on this season.
Starting pitcher Yu Darvish cruised into the ninth inning with a 2-1 lead and was seeking the Cubs’ second complete game of the season.
But the Cardinals scored two runs to take the air out of Wrigley Field again. With the victory, the Cardinals (89-67) clinched a postseason berth for the first time since 2015 (when a then-upstart Cubs team knocked them out of the playoffs) and eliminated the Cubs (82-74) from the National League Central race.
The Cubs are four games behind both Washington (85-69) and Milwaukee (86-70) for a wild-card spot.
The Cardinals swept a four-game series at Wrigley Field for the first time since 1921 and sent the Cubs to a six-game losing streak, with the past five losses all by one run.
And what would a day be without yet another injury to a key Cubs player?
Third baseman Kris Bryant suffered a sprained right ankle running out a double-play grounder in the third inning. X-rays did not reveal a fracture, but Bryant will have an MRI on Monday, and the team is scheduled to announce the results Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
“If you just play back the tape, it’s almost unbelievable that it turned out this way,” Maddon said. “Also the games against Cincinnati [before the Cardinals came to town], and just like the last six, this is really wash-and-repeat, and it’s been really, the word ‘frustrating.’ Of course it’s frustrating.
“Yu Darvish, my God. I saw Jake [Arrieta] pitch well and win a Cy Young [in 2015], but this is equivalent of all that. The stuff, command of his stuff. He absolutely deserved a better fate. Their guy (Miles Mikolas) was good, also.”
After closer Craig Kimbrel gave up homers on his first two pitches in the ninth inning Saturday, nothing should be shocking for the Cubs and their fans. Sent out to pitch Sunday’s ninth, Darvish gave up a leadoff triple to pinch hitter Jose Martinez. The ball was hit to center field and ticked the glove of Albert Almora, who had just come into the game. Almora ran back but could not reach the ball.
“I missed it,” he said. “I didn’t get to it. What else do you want me to say?”
Darvish gave up a sacrifice fly to former Cub Dexter Fowler to tie the game. A single and a stolen base by Tommy Edman and an RBI double to left by Paul Goldschmidt ended Darvish’s day.
“I was doing good, but we lost, so I’m so frustrated,” said Darvish, who fell to 6-8 as his ERA fell from 4.02 to 3.98.
Darvish’s frustration was evident in what looked like mud splattered all over his locker.
“It’s tough, but we did the best from us,” he said. “That’s it. … I’m so frustrated, once in my life. You can see it (pointing to his locker), right, because we have to win today, but we lost.”
Asked where the Cubs go from here, Maddon replied: “Pittsburgh.”
Team leader Anthony Rizzo, who has been playing with a sprained ankle himself, summed up the situation.
“The Cardinals were just better than us,” he said. “They just beat us. Today, with Darvish, with how he pitched, he just left it all out there the way he [did] today, knowing that we needed him. It’s tough.”
The Cubs now need almost to win out in their three games at Pittsburgh beginning Tuesday and the final three of the regular season next weekend at St. Louis.
“Obviously, it’s tough sledding, but we’ve got to win one game at a time,” Rizzo said. “Listen, this is obviously growing pains. You take the good with the bad wherever you can, and you learn. You learn from what’s going on and try to grow as a person.
“Individually in here, guys have done a lot of great things, especially this series. We just fell short.”