Saturday’s Game Report: Cubs 8, Cardinals 6
By Rob Rains
The NL Central race comes down to Sunday – unless it comes down to Monday.
The Cardinals suffered their fourth consecutive loss on Saturday night but retained their one-game lead, and saw their magic number for winning the division fall to one – when the Brewers lost to the Rockies in 10 innings in Denver.
The Brewers were one out away from moving into a first-place tie with the Cardinals before Sam Hilliard homered off Josh Hader to tie the game in the ninth, and Trevor Story then won it with a walkoff homer in the 10th.
“We can be disappointed about tonight but also have to realize that we are going into the last game of the season and we control our own destiny,” said manager Mike Shildt. “You can’t ask for more than that. … I’m excited about tomorrow.”
The Cardinals have been alone in first place for the last 37 days, since Aug. 23.
Only twice in the wild-card era have the Cardinals gone into the final game of the season with a division title at stake. In 2014, they led the Pirates by a game going into game 162, but the Pirates lost before the Cardinals game began in Arizona, giving the Cardinals the division championship.
In 2001, they led the Astros by one game and lost the final game of the season, while Houston won, moving into a first-place tie. Because both teams were in the playoffs, however, the Cardinals were declared the division champions and the Astros became a wild-card team.
If the Cardinals win on Sunday, they will win the division and advance to the Division Series against Atlanta. If they lose, and the Brewers win, the two teams will play a tiebreaker game on Monday for the division title, with the loser of that game headed to Washington for Tuesday’s wild card game against Max Scherzer and the Nationals.
The Cardinals found themselves behind just five pitches into Saturday night’s game, when Kyle Schwarber hit the first of the Cubs four home runs off Adam Wainwright. The four home runs were the most Wainwright has ever allowed in a game in his career and staked the Cubs to a 6-0 lead.
A three-run fifth and two runs in the seventh pulled the Cardinals within 6-5, but two more runs for Chicago in the eighth were more than the Cardinals could counter.
Here is how the game broke down:
At the plate: Harrison Bader’s home run started the three-run fifth, which included a two-run triple by Tommy Edman. He was left on third, however as Paul Goldschmidt struck out and Marcell Ozuna was retired on a fly to the warning track in right … Trailing 6-3, the Cardinals closed to 6-5 in the seventh when Edman singled with the bases loaded and Goldschmidt got a run home despite grounding into a double play … The Cubs added two runs in the eighth, before Paul DeJong hit his 30th homer of the season in the eighth … Ozuna was 0-of-4 and has five hits in his last 40 at-bats … Matt Carpenter struck out in all four of his at-bats,
On the mound: The Cubs pounded out 12 hits off Wainwright, tying the most hits he has allowed in a game. The last time he allowed 12 hits was in 2013 … In addition to Schwarber’s homer, he gave up two homers to Ian Happ and one to Willson Contreras. It was the second time in 125 games the Cubs hit four homers at Busch 3, the other time coming in 2014 … Tyler Webb gave the Cardinals a chance to come back with two perfect innings in relief but John Brebbia gave up a infield hit and walk to the first two hitters he faced in the eighth, and Andrew Miller let both runners score, allowing a single and a sacrifice fly … Miller has allowed five of his last eight inherited runners to score.
Key stat: Dexter Fowler walked twice and scored a run, but he was hitless in his other three at-bats, striking out twice. The leadoff hitter has one hit in his last 24 at-bats, and over his last 37 plate appearances has struck out 19 times.
Worth noting: In updating his injured hamstring, Kolten Wong said, “it’s better. Is it 100 percent? Probably not. The biggest question I keep asking all the trainers is when is the right time. I want to be able to play free and not think about it.” … Wainwright was trying to become only the second Cardinals pitcher to win six games in September. The only one to do it was Jesse Haines in 1928 ,,, The last pitcher to win six games in September in the majors was Jose Contreras of the White Sox in 2005 … The Cardinals announced that if they are tied with the Brewers after Sunday’s game, the tiebreaking game for the division title will begin at 2:09 p.m. on Monday at Busch Stadium. It will be televised by ESPN.
Looking ahead: Shildt confirmed after the game that Jack Flaherty will start on Sunday.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains