Christopher Morel folded his arms and leaned on the dugout railing, taking in the Milwaukee Brewers’ raucous celebration across the field.
Morel stayed locked in on the scene as Chicago Cubs coaches and teammates grabbed their stuff to head into the clubhouse. The Brewers, with the division title wrapped up and nothing to play for this weekend, poured onto the field and mobbed walk-off hero Carlos Santana, who helped serve the Cubs another one-run heartbreaker Friday in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings.
The same game has played out far too often over the last three weeks. Sporadic offensive production. Defensive miscues. Close games that don’t go in their favor. The Cubs (82-78) have lost four straight, and their season is down to survival mode — and even that is a generous description of their nearly nonexistent playoff hopes.
They are on the brink of elimination. Everything must go the Cubs’ way to close out the season, the byproduct of going 6-14 since completing a sweep of the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 6 at Wrigley Field. That stretch includes Friday’s loss in which the offense had nothing going until the eighth inning.
“The one bounce here or there that you need in those situations, we’re just obviously not taking advantage of or getting or making happen so at the end of the day we’ve got to play better,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “This last little bit I need to play better, come through in bigger moments and haven’t. Just frustrating, especially being in every game against good teams and really grinding our way but just not making it happen.”
Following the Miami Marlins’ comeback victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday, the Cubs must win their last two games at American Family Field while the Marlins lose their next two at PNC Park — and then must squander the resumption of their suspended game Monday against the New York Mets. The Marlins hold a 2-1 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth in that game.
Making matters even more difficult for the Cubs is the fact the Cincinnati Reds pulled even with them in the wild-card races. They both are 1 1/2 games behind the Marlins, but the Reds also own the tiebreaker on the Cubs.
“We’ve got to win every game,” manager David Ross said. “It’s been that way for a while now. I know the score.”
The Brewers played more like the team trying to stay alive in the wild-card race. The Cubs, who are 21-24 in one-run games, managed just three hits through seven innings.
Morel had two extra-base hits and made something happen in the eighth when he followed Jeimer Candelario’s leadoff homer with an aggressive triple, advancing around second when Brewers shortstop Willy Adames had the ball near the edge of the grass — Adames’ back was turned to the infield. Yan Gomes drove Morel in on a groundout to cut the deficit lead to 3-2.
Ian Happ’s first-pitch, game-tying homer to begin the ninth gave the Cubs life. But the offense again came up short in the 10th. Gomes struck out against Caleb Boushley, who was making his big-league debut, and an intentional walk to Mike Tauchman to load the bases set up a big spot for Patrick Wisdom. He went down swinging on four pitches.
Santana sliced a José Cuas sinker into left field to score the winning run without a throw in the bottom of the 10th.
Two great defensive plays by Swanson in the ninth forced extras. He showed off his athleticism turning a 6-3 double play and then snagged a deflection off Cuas’ mitt for a barehanded throw to get William Contreras at first. Swanson’s glove work doesn’t make up for his offensive struggles the last two months, which have become particularly noticeable amid the Cubs’ collective problems down the stretch. He struck out twice Friday and grounded into a double play.
“Just playing bad, which I own,” Swanson said. “Obviously come to work every day with the expectation of playing well and just haven’t performed in moments recently. It sucks and definitely something I’m frickin’ working on but just not happening. We’ve got two more chances. I know (it) just sounds cliché, but another opportunity to come to work tomorrow and put together a good performance and give ourselves a chance.”