Cubs, Brewers take regular season to a final day that might not be so final

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Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo reaches for a foul ball in the stands in the eighth inning at Wrigley Field on Saturday. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

That’s how it’s going to be?

Yeah, that’s how it’s going to be. Of course that’s how it’s going to be.

What, you thought there was going to be a tidy resolution for the Cubs on Saturday? That they might have had the National League Central title tucked in their pockets by the end of the day?

Sorry, no. This regular season will go into its final day carrying real meaning, thanks to the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. It has been headed that way for the better part of two weeks for a lot of reasons, none bigger than this one: Because it’s supposed to.

Just because.

The Cubs will face the Cardinals on Sunday in a Game 162 that matters, just as the Brewers will play one that matters against the Tigers. If the Cubs and Brewers are tied for the NL Central lead after Sunday, they’d play an extra game Monday at Wrigley to decide the division champion. The winner would get home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. The loser would play in the wild-card game Tuesday.

Clarity is for true believers and window washers. The Cubs might be the Best Team with the Haziest Postseason Forecast in History. That’s a category, right?

Who and when are nice questions, but the pertinent one is what the Cubs will do once the playoffs start.

If anyone knows, please contact me.

I see a team that can beat any NL club in the postseason.

I also see a team that wasn’t very convincing in the second half.

I see a team with a ton of playoff experience.

I also see a team that isn’t as good as recent Cubs postseason versions have been.

I see a team with strong starting pitching heading into October.

I see a team with big questions in the bullpen and, unless something has changed, that’s a problem in the postseason.

I see a team that might have the ability to flip a switch when it matters.

I also see a team that has trouble scoring runs consistently.

Do you feel my conflict? The team that had the best record in the NL for much of the season doesn’t feel like the best at anything right now. The red-hot Brewers do, unless it’s the red-hot Rockies. But you never know, which should be the Cubs’ slogan heading into the playoffs. You never know – they might pull something out of their caps.

Two things are sure: They have made the postseason four straight years, the first time in team history. Of those four years and four teams, this one has the oddest vibe to it heading into the playoffs.

“It’s a blast, absolutely,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the down-to-the-last-day uncertainty. “That was part of my spiel with the boys (Friday). Since the time you were in Little League, and maybe before that, these were the situations you always want to be in. So why would you choose to not enjoy that or create an ominous situation that subtracts the joy?

“… It is fun, and normally, it should bring out the best in our guys.’’

It has been a long, sometimes bumpy season. Injuries took a toll. Two huge signings, pitchers Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood, were huge disappointments. There was the 30-games-in-30-days stretch that the team endured. Domestic-violence allegations against shortstop Addison Russell re-emerged this month, leading to Major League Baseball placing him on administrative leave.

And, yet, here the Cubs are, ready for something, anything. And here we are, wondering exactly what that something, anything is.

Cole Hamels was very good Saturday, giving up three hits and one earned run in seven innings. He, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks will get most of the starter innings in the postseason, if there is an extended postseason.

Cubs closer Pedro Strop said he’s recovered enough from a hamstring injury to be ready for the playoffs. File that under, “That Would Be Good.’’

And those three straight NL Championship Series appearances figure to help.

“There’s a lot of guys with playoff experience,’’ Hamels said. “You have a lot of guys in that lineup with a lot of experience. You kind of look at each other. You know that you don’t have to be the hero. Everybody just plays their part. If something doesn’t happen, you can pick up your teammate.

“Nobody’s pressing, and that’s the great thing to see because we have the talent, we have the desire and we’re there to pick each other up and not try to overdo it.’’

The temperature was 59 at game time Saturday. There was a bite to the air. We’re well acquainted now with the feeling that comes with that crispness. It feels like October baseball. How much we’ll see of October baseball remains the question.


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