Fit to be tied: Cubs beat Cardinals, headed to playoff against Brewers
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There will be a Game 163.
The Cubs beat the Cardinals 10-5 on Sunday to clinch a tie with Milwaukee for the NL Central title. The Brewers completed a sweep of the lowly Tigers with an 11-0 win of their own, setting up a one-game playoff for the division Monday at Wrigley Field. The teams, tied at 95-67, will be playing for a division title, the chance to avoid the treacherous wild-card game Tuesday, and also home-field advantage through the National League playoffs.
In 19 games, the Cubs were 11-8 against the Brewers, but only won three games after taking eight of the first nine from Milwaukee.
The loser of Monday’s game will host that wild-card game and see the loser of the West playoff, which will be later Monday between Colorado and Los Angeles.
The Cubs earned the final chance to win the division thanks to some of their biggest stars (Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez each had big hits and Willson Contreras homered) and some of the secondary contributors (Alec Mills, Allen Webster, Randy Rosario) as they used nine pitchers. For the Cubs, it was a happyish result on a historic day they thought they’d avoid.
Sunday was the first time since Oct. 8, 1908 that the Cubs entered the final day of the regular season tied for first place in their league or division. On that day – which was necessary because of the infamous Merkle’s Boner – the Cubs beat the New York Giants 4-2 at the Polo Grounds to avoid elimination and win the NL pennant.
This game didn’t have quite the same stakes, but it did mark an important crossroads for the Cubs. And frankly, it’s one they probably didn’t anticipate encountering.
The Cubs have led the NL Central since the end of play July 13, and had owned the lead outright every day since Aug. 1 until the Brewers caught them Saturday night. They led by five games after play Sept. 2 but a 15-12 September entering Sunday combined with Milwaukee’s seven-game winning streak put them into Sunday’s precarious spot. And from Milwaukee’s perspective, the Brewers were six games back and in third place on Aug. 28 but went 22-7 the rest of the way as Christian Yelich became the favorite for NL MVP.
And the Cubs found themselves in a precarious spot early Sunday.
St. Louis scored twice in the top of the first on singles by Paul DeJong and Patrick Wisdom. Jason Heyward let Wisdom’s ball get past him in center, allowing Tyler O’Neill to score from first. Then in the bottom of the inning, Baez was thrown out at home trying to score from second on a Rizzo single to right. Jose Martinez threw him out, and the Cubs ended the inning scoreless.
Montgomery’s day ended in the third after giving up a one-out double to DeJong, before Webster navigated out of the inning.
The Cubs then got Montgomery off the hook in the bottom of the inning, scoring four times to take a 4-2 lead. Daniel Murphy had a two-out double then scored on a Ben Zobrist triple. Zobrist then scored on a Jack Flaherty wild pitch to tie the game, igniting the Wrigley Field crowd. Rizzo then drove in Baez for a 3-2 Cubs lead and his 100th RBI of the season. Heyward then kept it going with an RBI single of his own for a 4-2 edge.
And that lead grew in the sixth, starting with Bryant’s two-run double before Contreras’ two-run homer gave the Cubs an 8-2 lead.
After Webster’s departure, Mills threw two strong innings before running into trouble in the sixth by allowing a Wisdom double and walking Harrison Bader, ending his day. Carl Edwards Jr. came in and allowed a two-run single by Yairo Munoz to cut the lead to 8-4. Rosario ended the sixth by getting Matt Carpenter to ground to second.
The Cubs got both runs back in the bottom of the inning, first on an error on a Bryant grounder then an infield single by Albert Almora.
The Cardinals loaded the bases on Brandon Kintzler in the seventh, and Steve Cishek hit Yairo Munoz to bring in a run before striking out Francisco Pena to end the inning.