Fall guys? Cubs’ comeback falls short against Phillies in potential October preview
The way the last four games played out at Wrigley Field between the National League East-leading Phillies and the NL Central-leading Cubs, is it too early to dream on October?
Of course, it is. It’s May.
But even players got a sense of fall chill in the air during the most tense week of baseball the Cubs have played so far this season in a series the Cubs and Phillies split that included an extra-inning Phillies win, a walk-off Cubs win, a three-homer comeback by the Cubs and, on Thursday, a 9-7 Phillies victory that ended with the potential tying run on second base.
“Cole and I even talked about it a little bit,” Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks said of teammate and ex-Phillies ace Cole Hamels. “They’re two great sports towns, too. We could see this lining up somewhere down the road for sure in October.”
The Cubs front office might have work to do on their bullpen between now and the trading deadline. Hamels and ace Jon Lester – Thursday’s starter – need to get back to pitching more than the four innings they each provided the past two games.
But the Phillies have spent two winters putting together a team that can rival this Cubs team that is working on a fifth consecutive playoff trip – and that might be playing as well as it has since its 2016 championship.
“Shoot, they’ve got the names over there to do it,” said Cubs’ leadoff man Kyle Schwarber, who was on base three times Thursday, including just long enough in the seventh to circle the bases on a two-run homer to help turn a 7-0 deficit into a nail-biter for the final three innings.
Names? Former MVPs in Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen. An All-Star catcher in J.T. Realmuto, aformer Cy Young winner in Jake Arrieta, and a rising-star ace in Aaron Nola.
“They’ve just got to put it together,” Schwarber added. “It’s just like us. We’ve got the names. It’s if we put it together. It’s just how it all ends up rolling into that last month and being able to take advantage of putting away some games.”
Both teams have more than 100 games left in their seasons, including another three-game meeting in Philadelphia in August.
So for now hold off on the Dallas Green tributes, the Ryne Sandberg and Gary Matthews first pitches and all the oral histories on how the Phillies won that 2008 World Series that was supposed to belong to Lou Piniella’s Cubs.
If anything, this week’s series – with three comeback wins and a near miss on Thursday – served as a reminder of what the Cubs already knew about how loaded the National League is this year.
About how many good teams they’re going to have to beat all year long just to reach October.
“That’s the way it’s going to be the whole way for us,” Schwarber said.
If the season ended today, the Cubs and Phillies would be a first-round matchup. And Thursday’s pitchers would get their teams’ likely Game 1 assignments.
On Thursday, Phillies ace Aaron Nola had a seven-run lead before he took the mound in the fourth – and before he allowed a hit. Just before Schwarber opened a three-run rally with a walk and eventually scored on a two-run single by Anthony Rizzo – who added a second homer in as many nights in the seventh.
Lester gave up homers to Realmuto and Jean Segura during a second straight rough outing – after which he said he hasn’t felt right since taking that 1.16 ERA into his previous start.
“Even standing on the mound feels wrong right now,” said Lester, who by all indications is healthy. “Been here before. It’s just about making good pitches.”
So maybe give it at least a few more weeks before scheduling Jake Arrieta’s October return engagement and Harper’s next meet-and-greet with the right-field bleacher crowd.
“It’s fun to think about those things,” said Hendricks, who also heard from Arrieta on the new winning vibe in Philly. “But our focus is obviously on today.”
“I think we match up well against them,” Lester said. “It comes down to pitching.”