PHILADELPHIA – If the Cubs are trying to shake up the top of the National League Central in the final weeks of the season, they’re not doing a very good job of finishing what they start.
The reeling Cardinals have opened the door to the top of the division — threatening to play themselves into the one-and-done wild-card game — but the Cubs have lost two chances in four days to get within five games of them.
On Saturday, against the worst team in baseball, a big error in the seventh inning and a mistake by closer Hector Rondon with two out in the ninth spoiled another chance.
After Rondon issued a two-out walk to 35-year-old depth catcher Erik Kratz (lifetime .218), Cody Asche came off the bench and hit the next pitch against the right-field foul pole for the walk-off in a 7-5 victory by the Phillies – the worst team in the majors.
With the National League Central-leading Cardinals finishing a suspended game with a loss and then losing their scheduled game Saturday, the Cubs lost a chance to bunch the top three teams in the division within 4½ games of each other.
The Cubs had won seven of eight until then (the lone loss another blown lead, in St. Louis on Wednesday). And the Cardinals suddenly have lost eight of 10.
If it’s a familiar-looking scenario to Cubs manager Joe Maddon – who watched the Boston Red Sox collapse while his Tampa Bay Rays made the playoffs in 2011 – he did not sound afterward like he was sweating a lost opportunity.
“It was outstanding the way we played them,” he said. “The way we came back after we had that bad inning was really impressive. Really impressive.
“If you’re going to be the manager of this team and your guys do that, it’s outstanding.”
The second-place Pirates – who host the Cubs for four games starting Tuesday – beat the Brewers to close to 2 ½ games of the top. And the Cubs are 5 ½ back.
The series concludes Sunday before a scheduled off day for the Cubs.
The Cubs will have 20 games remaining after this series – half against the Pirates (seven) and Cardinals (three).
The Cubs led until a five-run seventh by the Phillies – set up by first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s two-out error on a soft bouncer by Andres Blanco.
A double, two walks and three-run double by Cesar Hernandez quickly made it 5-1, before the Cubs tied it in the top of the eighth.
Chris Coghlan doubled home two runs, and Kris Bryant added another RBI double in the Cubs’ four-run eighth. Miguel Montero’s sacrifice fly with one out tied it.
On a gray, wet Saturday, Maddon flipped dates on his plans for a bullpen game because of the uncertain whether – pushing scheduled starter Dan Haren back to Sunday to avoid the possibility of losing him to a lengthy delay once the game started.
The bullpen game was originally slotted as a result of Thursday’s rainout that pushed ace Jake Arrieta’s schedule back – and prompted Maddon to slide Jason Hammel off Sunday’s schedule and into the big, upcoming Pittsburgh series.
Despite a 50-minute delay before the first pitch Saturday, the game was played without interruption.
More surprising, the bullpen duet of Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill combined to pitch six scoreless innings to get a 1-0 game to Justin Grimm in the seventh.
Wood and Cahill combined for eight strikeouts without a walk and allowing just three hits.
The only run of the game through six was rookie Kyle Schwarber’s third home run in two days, off right-hander Jerad Eickhoff – who allowed only two other hits in seven innings of work.
The Cubs lost a chance to take the lead after tying it in the eighth, when drawn-in second baseman Hernandez threw out Bryant trying to score on Javy Baez’s one-out grounder.
Maddon asked for a review of the play to determine whether the home plate collision/blocking rule had been violated. The out call was upheld.