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Cubs discover object in mirror closer than it appears: Brewers within half-game

The scoreboard-watching reached high intensity for the Cubs and their fans quickly Tuesday night.

By the time a 55-minute rain delay had ended and allowed the Cubs and Pirates to start play at Wrigley Field, the Brewers already had taken an early lead in St. Louis.

Then rookie Pablo Reyes’ third career home run — a three-run shot off Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery — landed in the left-field seats in the second inning.

And by the end of a long, quiet night, the Cubs and their anemic lineup had lost 6-0, the Brewers had beaten the Cardinals 12-4 and 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant was on the bench with his status in doubt for the rest of the week after getting hit on the left wrist by a pitch.

Jorge De La Rosa after walking in the sixth run in a 6-0 loss to the Pirates Tuesday night.

X-rays were negative. Manager Joe Maddon, who said the wrist swelled when Bryant took the field in the fifth, doesn’t plan to play him Wednesday.

If there were fingernails left among Cubs faithful, they were as chewed down and in danger as that fragile NL Central lead over the Brewers that suddenly was at a mere half-game — the tightest the division race has been since the Cubs and Brewers finished July 31 tied for first.

The Cubs have five games left; the Brewers have four.

The Cubs have scored one run in their last 24 innings. And the bullpen levers Maddon is pulling these days look more like slot-machine arms.

After three years of getting to the last week of the season on cruise control toward the playoffs, this is how the Cubs figure to do it all the way down to the final series.

That series, by the way, is against the Cardinals, who fell a half-game behind Colorado for the last wild-card spot with their loss to the Brewers.

“We’ve got a resilient bunch of guys, and we know where we’re at,” Montgomery (5-6) said. “It’s a little bit of motivation. We’ve got to bring it these last five games. We’re not going to get discouraged.”

Buckle up for the finish.

That one-game lead in the loss column has never looked bigger for the Cubs, who might not be any better off in a suddenly realistic tie for the division lead than finishing second.

If it finishes that way Sunday, the Cubs and Brewers would be the first test case of the worst-case scenario of the one-game wild-card system — made worse yet by the fact that they have the league’s top records.

“Wow, I haven’t even thought about it,” Maddon said. “I hope we avoid that.”

Before the one-game wild-card format was instituted in 2012, a division tie was resolved using tiebreaker criteria to determine which team would open the Division Series as the division champ and which would open its best-of-five as the wild card (see: Oakland and Seattle in 2000).

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But now it must be played off in a one-game tiebreaker.

In this case, that would mean the Brewers and Cubs at Wrigley Field on Monday to determine the NL’s top seed — and a home playoff opener in the NLDS.

And then: Monday’s loser would play the next day at its home ballpark in the wild-card game, against the Rockies, Cardinals or possibly the Dodgers.

Two days after the wild-card game, that winner would open the NLDS on the road against the team it lost to on Monday.

“You’re trying to not be put in that position,” Maddon said. “But if that’s the rule, you abide by it, and it makes it even more difficult.

“I’ve been involved in some crazy scenarios [his Rays once had to win three consecutive must-win games to advance to the ALDS]. I haven’t really paid attention to this one, but if that’s the way it plays out, then that’s what you’ve got to do.”

By the way, after beating Milwaukee in eight of their first nine meetings, the Cubs have lost seven of 10 to the Brewers, who improved to 15-7 in September.

“Just win tonight’s game, baby,” Maddon said. “Then I’ll be really happy about that, and we’ll move on from there.”