Cubs, Brewers bring NL playoff race to its knees

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SAN DIEGO – Not long after the news broke Tuesday night that Brewers star Christian Yelich is out for the season with a broken kneecap, Kris Bryant hit a pair of two-run homers for the Cubs in his return from his own knee injury.

Which knee has a bigger impact on either team remains to be seen over the final 20 days of the season.

What’s certain is that the National League playoff picture took on a much different look Tuesday night.

Yelich, the reigning NL MVP, was having an even better season this year – including a 6-for-8, five-walk surge against the Cubs in three consecutive Brewer victories over the weekend.

On this night in San Diego, the Cubs got just three innings from starting pitcher Jose Quintana but four homers between Bryant and Jason Heyward to force extra innings late Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, the Brewers won again despite the Yelich injury, as did the Phillies to inch closer to the Cubs for the NL’s second wild-card berth, pending the final in San Diego.

“This is not the ideal situation,” Bryant said. “But how many years are you just going to go through it [in a] cakewalk and just be all rosy and smiles on faces and everybody’s happy? I don’t think that’s how life goes in general.

“What I can tell you is that everybody here is very motivated and ready to go and … being where we are in the standings is not where we wanted to be. But I think we’re all very ready and hopefully we’ll make these last [weeks of] games really count.”

Kimbrel won’t return Thursday

Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel (elbow inflammation) threw lightly on the side again Tuesday but appears several days away from a full-intensity bullpen session, assuring he won’t be ready to return from the injured list on his first eligible day Thursday.

“It’s responding well,” said Kimbrel after throwing Tuesday.

No clarity on Russell

Shortstop Addison Russell remained in baseball’s concussion protocol two days after being hit in the head by a pitch Sunday in Milwaukee.

The Padres team doctor examined Russell both Monday and Tuesday, and his status is subject to daily evaluation until he is symptom-free.

“From the reports we have on him, he’s getting better and better every day,” said Russell’s agent, Scott Boras.

Don’t put Hoerner in (SS) corner

Meanwhile, Russell’s replacement, Nico Hoerner remains the everyday shortstop until Russell’s return – and then will get the chance to earn playing time at second base and in the outfield even after Russell returns.

“That’s something we talked about before he even got here,” Maddon said. “We’ll try to make our best call on a nightly basis.”

Hoerner, the 2018 first-round draft pick who has played mostly shortstop as an amateur and professional, played a full season in college at second, and he spent a lot of time this season learning to play outfield, in particular centerfield.

“I’m going to be more comfortable in some places than others but I also feel confident anywhere on the field,” he said.

Binge hitting

When Jason Heyward homered in Tuesday night’s second inning, he became the sixth Cub with 20 home runs this season, tying the 2017 franchise record. The five others: Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez, Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras.

Those five and Ian Happ did it in 2017.

It’s only the fifth time in franchise history the Cubs have had five 20-homer players (also 2008, 2004, 1958).

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