‘Keep this momentum going’: Analyzing the Cubs’ potential path to the postseason

The Cubs have six games left in the regular season, split between Atlanta and Milwaukee.

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Cubs designated hitter Christopher Morel and teammates acknowledge their fans after the last home game of the regular season at Wrigley Field on Sunday.

Cubs designated hitter Christopher Morel and teammates acknowledge their fans after the last home game of the regular season at Wrigley Field on Sunday.

Paul Beaty/AP

In the Cubs’ last home game of the regular season Sunday, their fans got to sing ‘‘Go, Cubs, Go’’ twice.

The cheers and the bouncy tune swelled after Cody Bellinger scooped up a ground ball and stepped on first base for what looked to be the final out. Both died down when a review showed it was a foul ball before breaking out again when Julian Merryweather struck out the Rockies’ Ryan McMahon to secure a 4-3 victory and complete a three-game sweep.

The swings from hope to disappointment to renewed jubilation mirrored the last few weeks of the Cubs’ season.

‘‘Just nice to go out on a high note, give these fans something to cheer about and get off to the road trip and try to keep this momentum going,’’ manager David Ross said after the game.

The Cubs salvaged their homestand with the sweep, making up for a sloppy series loss to the Pirates. Now for the homestretch: six games on the road split between Atlanta and Milwaukee, with a National League wild-card spot on the line.

The Cubs still technically haven’t been eliminated from the NL Central race. But sitting six games behind the division-leading Brewers, they are far more likely to claim a postseason berth through the wild card. The Cubs are tied with the Diamondbacks for the second wild-card spot (the Diamondbacks have the tiebreaker) and are one game ahead of the Marlins for the third — and final — wild-card spot.

On paper, the Cubs have the toughest remaining schedule among the three. Sure, the Diamondbacks play the Astros, who are in their own playoff chase, to finish the season. First, however, they will play the imploding White Sox. The Marlins wrap up the regular season against two teams — the Mets and Pirates — that are already out of the playoff picture.

Oh, and don’t forget the Reds, who are 2½ games behind the Cubs.

‘‘We really like our position and where we’re at right now,’’ corner infielder Patrick Wisdom said. ‘‘We have a great group in here. We’re all pulling for one another, which is really fun to be a part of. Going out there each and every day with this group and keeping it game to game has been really crucial for us.’’

There are a couple of factors working in the Cubs’ favor. They are set up to miss the Braves’ most formidable pitchers after Max Fried and Charlie Morton went on the injured list with finger ailments during the weekend. And NL Cy Young candidate Spencer Strider pitched the second game of the Braves’ doubleheader Sunday.

Bryce Elder, the Braves’ starter Tuesday, has a top-10 ERA (3.63) among qualified NL starters, but he struggled against the Cubs when he faced them last month at Wrigley Field, allowing seven runs (five earned) in 4⅓ innings. The other two Braves starters in the series are listed as TBA.

For the Cubs’ part, they’ve adjusted their rotation to get the best matchups. Kyle Hendricks struggled against the Braves (seven earned runs in four innings) last month as much as Elder did against the Cubs, but he won’t be starting in Atlanta. Instead, the Cubs lined up their own Cy Young candidate, Justin Steele, and two pitchers the Braves have yet to see this season in Jameson Taillon and Marcus Stroman.

If Hendricks pitches Friday or Saturday in Milwaukee, he still could start Game 2 or Game 3 of a possible wild-card series on regular rest.

The Brewers already have clinched a playoff spot and likely will have secured the division title by the time the Cubs face them, so they’ll be lining up their best pitchers for the postseason. That means the Cubs will miss Corbin Burnes in the final series, and Brewers manager Craig Counsell might have a quicker hook for his starters.

‘‘If we’re able to take care of our own business, I think we’re in a really good spot,’’ left-hander Jordan Wicks said after his quality start Sunday. ‘‘That’s how we look at it as a team. And that’s how we’re going to continue to look at it.’’


Tuesday: Justin Steele (16-5, 3.00 ERA) vs. Bryce Elder (12-4, 3.63), 6:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Wednesday: Jameson Taillon (8-10, 5.05) vs. TBA, 6:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Thursday: Marcus Stroman (10-8, 3.88) vs. TBA, 6:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

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