‘Weirdest thing in baseball’? Cubs brace for wild finish to division race

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Anthony Rizzo goes head-first into the stands for a foul ball Saturday. He just missed making the catch. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

The Cubs will play a decisive gameSundayat Wrigley Field and hope to avoid doing the sameMondayandTuesday.

They left the ballparkSaturdayafternoon a half game ahead of the Brewers in the National League Central after falling 2-1 to the Cardinals – who kept their own slim playoff hopes alive, pending the outcome of the Dodgers-Giants game.

Depending on the outcome of gamesSaturdaynight andSunday, the Cubs could win the NL Central outright, be forced into a tiebreakerMondayor finish in second place and settle for a wild card.

“We all obviously know the situation,” said presumptive Game 1 playoff starter Jon Lester, who would pitch on his natural fifth day on Tuesday if tapped for a wild-card game. “At the same time, you can’t worry about it. We’ve got to worry abouttomorrow now.”

Here’s how it could all shake out:

If the Cubs winSundayand Brewers lose, the Cubs will win the National League Central title outright for the third straight year. They’d head straight toThursday’sNational League Division Series and face the winner of the NL wild card game between the Brewers and Rockies or Dodgers.

A Cubs lossSundaycoupled with a Brewers win would make the Brewers the NL Central champs for the first time since 2011. The Cubs would then head to a wild card gameTuesdayagainst the Dodgers, Rockies or Cardinals.

“The crazy thing is I heard that two teams could celebratetomorrow [at Wrigley],” Cubs starter Cole Hamels (4-3) said. “That’d be the weirdest thing in baseball.”

If the Cubs and Brewers finish the regular season tied, they’d play a tiebreaker gameMondayat Wrigley. The Cubs earned home-field advantage thanks to their 11-8 regular season record against the Brewers. Jose Quintana, the likely tiebreaker starter, is 4-1 against Milwaukee this year with a 2.17 ERA.

The winner of a tiebreaker game would win the NL Central title and move on toThursday’sNLDS. The loser would hostTuesday’swild card game.

The Cubs have had the best record in the league since Aug. 1 and would have home-field advantage in the playoffs if they can hang onto the division title.

“We would just like to continue to have the best record in the league aftertomorrow,” manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s nothing to lament with our guys. They’ve been playing very hard for a long period of time. Our route has been a little bit different than everybody else. We’ll come back ready to playtomorrowand see how it falls.”

The Cubs claimed a gift of a run in the first inning when Cardinals second baseman Yairo Munoz dropped a two-out pop fly in shallow right field, allowing Ben Zobrist to score.

St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas only allowed one other Cubs baserunner to even reach second base. Mikolas allowed five hits and one unearned run in eight innings – his 20thquality start of the season. He walked none and struck out six.

Hamels was perfect through three innings before leadoff batter Matt Carpenter reached on catcher’s interference in the fourth. He scored on Paul DeJong’s single. Hamels hit Harrison Bader with an 0-2 pitch the following inning, and the leadoff baserunner again came around to score.

The game featured a playoff atmosphere and plenty of noise in front of a crowd of 40,784. The Cubs can expect that for all their remaining games – however many that ends up being.

“It’s a special moment to be able to see that type of intensity that comes with meaningful games and that sort of playoff atmosphere,” Hamels said. “It’s a little bit better when you win.”

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