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No closer, no shortstop, no leadoff hitter, no chance Cubs in playoff position — wait, what?

Manager Joe Maddon embraces the critics as he navigates the final weeks of a tight playoff race with adversity mounting for his flawed team.

San Francisco Giants v Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are in playoff position despite closer Craig Kimbrel’s sore elbow landing him on the inured list — a few weeks after he was sidelined by a sore knee.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

SAN DIEGO — The Cubs might not have closer Craig Kimbrel back from his elbow inflammation until the final week or so of the season.

They might have their Class AA shortstop starting at least three or four more days in a pennant race because of injuries to their two major-league options.

Their best leadoff hitter, Ben Zobrist, was out of the lineup Wednesday night after fouling a ball off his right knee and leaving the game Tuesday.

Meanwhile, much of Cubs Twitter and some studio-based media 2,000 miles from the team are calling for the manager’s job in all-caps tweets and ripping him in middle-of-the-night videos.

“It’s OK, because they have no idea exactly what’s going on, and I always refer back to my sitting-at-the-bar days,” manager Joe Maddon said the night after one of his few reliable pitchers left in a shaky bullpen walked three batters to force in the winning run in a 10-inning loss Tuesday night in San Diego.

“It’s great conversation. And it means they’re watching; it means they’re involved and they’re invested. That’s all it means. And I appreciate that. I really mean that.”

Often left unsaid by that group of fans and pundits is that a team in serious need of roster help after last season got little to none — especially for a bullpen that has had a closer on its active roster for exactly 54 days in the last 14 months.

In fact, elbow soreness that was expected to require the minimum-required 10 days on the injured list now looks like it will keep Kimbrel out until at least the final 10 games of the year.

“Anything that happens before that would be gravy,” said Maddon, who stressed the lack of any firm timeline at this point.

With games fast ticking off the remaining schedule, Craig Kimbrel played catch again Wednesday and said he didn’t know when he’d be ready to throw his first bullpen session since the problem arose Sept. 2 — much less when he might be available for a game.

“Once I get back to where I feel comfortable letting it rip, we’ll work in some breaking balls,” he said. “And once I’m comfortable with that I’m sure I’ll be right back in there.”

The Cubs have 16 games left once they open their final homestand Friday.

What also gets omitted from much of the social media and sports-studio criticism over how the team is run is the fact that a group that looks nothing like a playoff team after injuries, free-agency whiffs and decline is actually in playoff position with barely two weeks left in the season.

Evaluators from two rival organizations on Wednesday offered unsolicited praise for the job Maddon has done this season to have this team in a wild-card position with all its shortcomings.

One said he doesn’t see one area of the game in which this Cubs teams stands out.

Russell out until homestand

Shortstop Addison Russell, who hasn’t played since getting hit in the head by a pitch Sunday, was ruled out until at least sometime over the weekend when the team gets home.

He remained in baseball’s concussion protocol Wednesday.

“He’s doing better,” Maddon said. “The symptoms are lessening a bit, but he’s still not out of the woods, however you want to describe it. But he is feeling better.”

Russell will be examined by the Cubs’ medical staff in Chicago Friday before the Cubs have any further progress reports.