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Fall guys? Cubs’ comeback falls short against Phillies in potential October preview

The teams split a four-game series that included three comeback victories and a 9-7 near miss on Thursday.

Philadelphia Phillies v Chicago Cubs
Jason Heyward breaks his bat over his leg after striking for the first out of the ninth inning Thursday — after missing his fifth walk of the game on a close 3-0 strike call.
Photo by David Banks/ Getty Images

The way the last four games played out between the National League East-leading Phillies and the NL Central-leading Cubs, is it too early to dream of October?

Of course, it is. It’s May.

But even players got a sense of fall chill in the air during the most tense week of baseball the Cubs have played this season in a series they split with the Phillies.

The four-game set included a Phillies extra-inning victory, a Cubs walk-off victory, a Cubs three-homer comeback and, on Thursday, a 9-7 Phillies victory that ended with the potential tying run on second base.

“[Former Phillies left-hander] Cole [Hamels] and I even talked about it a little bit,” Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. “They’re two great sports towns, too. We could see this lining up somewhere down the road for sure in October.”

The Cubs’ front office might have work to do on its bullpen between now and the trading deadline. Hamels and ace Jon Lester — Thursday’s starter — need to get back to pitching more than the four innings they each provided the last two games.

But the Phillies have spent two winters putting together a team that can rival the Cubs, who are working on a fifth consecutive playoff trip and might be playing as well as they have since their 2016 championship.

“Shoot, they’ve got the names over there to do it,” said Cubs leadoff man Kyle Schwarber, who was on base three times, including just long enough in the seventh to circle the bases on a two-run homer that turned an 8-3 deficit into a nail-biter for the last three innings.

Names? MVPs in Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, an All-Star catcher in J.T. Realmuto, a Cy Young winner in Jake Arrieta and a rising-star ace in Aaron Nola.

“They’ve just got to put it together,” Schwarber said. “It’s just like us. We’ve got the names. It’s if we put it together. It’s just how it all ends up rolling into that last month and being able to put away some games.”

Both teams have more than 100 games left, including a three-game series in Philadelphia in August.

So, for now, hold off on the Dallas Green tributes, the Ryne Sandberg and Gary Matthews first pitches and all the oral histories about how the Phillies won that 2008 World Series that was supposed to belong to Lou Piniella’s Cubs.

If anything, this series — with three comeback wins and a near miss on Thursday — served as a reminder of what the Cubs already knew about how loaded the NL is this year. About how many good teams they’re going to have to beat all year just to reach October.

“That’s the way it’s going to be the whole way for us,” Schwarber said.

If the season ended today, the Cubs and Phillies would be a first-round matchup. And Thursday’s pitchers would get their teams’ likely Game 1 assignments.

Nola had a seven-run lead before he took the mound in the fourth — and before he allowed a hit. Schwarber opened a three-run rally with a walk and scored on a two-run single by Anthony Rizzo, who added a second homer in as many games in the seventh.

Lester allowed homers to Realmuto and Jean Segura during a second straight rough outing. After the game, he said he hasn’t felt right since taking a 1.16 ERA into his previous start.

“Even standing on the mound feels wrong right now,” said Lester, who by all indications is healthy. “Been here before. It’s just about making good pitches.”

So maybe give it at least a few more weeks before scheduling Arrieta’s October return engagement and Harper’s next meet-and-greet with the right-field bleacher crowd.

“It’s fun to think about those things,” said Hendricks, who also heard from Arrieta on the new winning vibe in Philly. “But our focus is obviously on today.”