(Photo credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports)
Even with the National League Central title secured, the Milwaukee Brewers still have a chance to do damage within the division.
With the Cubs' NL wild-card chances hanging on by a thread, host Milwaukee can officially eliminate Chicago from postseason contention on Saturday when the teams meet for the penultimate game of the regular season.
Carlos Santana hit a walk-off double in the bottom of the 10th inning on Friday night to lift the Brewers (91-69) to a 4-3 victory over the Cubs, putting Chicago's playoff chances on life support.
One more loss and the Cubs (82-78) are done. They don't control their own destiny, either, as they would also need the Marlins (83-76) to lose their final three games, including a suspended contest against the Mets that is set to resume on Monday with Miami up 2-1 in the ninth inning.
The Marlins own a 1 1/2-game lead over Chicago and the Cincinnati Reds (82-78) for the third and final National League wild-card spot.
"We know where we're at -- back against the wall," said Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who gave up three runs on five hits in 4 1/3 innings on Friday. "We need some help obviously, but we've still just got to focus on what we're doing, try to come in (Saturday) and give everything we've got."
Rookie left-hander Jordan Wicks (4-1, 3.00 ERA) will be tasked with helping Chicago live to see another day when he makes his seventh major league start of the season on Saturday.
In his most recent outing, Wicks earned a win against the Colorado Rockies pn Sunday, when he surrendered three runs on four hits in six innings. He walked one and struck out three.
Wicks has never faced the Brewers.
Milwaukee will give the ball to left-hander Eric Lauer (4-5, 5.48 ERA), who will be making his first start since missing four months with a shoulder injury. He last pitched May 20, when he gave up six runs on six hits -- including three homers -- in three-plus innings during an 8-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburgh, Fla. He walked two and fanned two.
In nine career appearances (eight starts) against the Cubs, Lauer is 3-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 42 innings. He beat Chicago on April 2, when he threw 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball.
Although the Brewers have a chance to thwart Chicago's playoff plans, Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell's main focus is getting his team ready for Game 1 of its wild-card series.
"Our No. 1 priority is getting our guys into the best spots we can get them going into Tuesday," Counsell said. "That's what's most important."
That strategy wouldn't have been possible had the Brewers not clinched the NL Central title.
"You earn that," Counsell said. "We worked hard to get to that spot. We earned that."
With a victory on Saturday, Milwaukee would clinch the season series from the Cubs. The Brewers currently lead 6-5.
Chicago might be without Nico Hoerner after the second baseman exited the series opener in the seventh inning with a left knee contusion. He will be re-evaluated prior to the Saturday game.
"Nico's obviously a staple on this team and somebody that's really, really tough and grinds at it every single day," Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson said. "But unfortunately for him, he just wasn't able to fight through this one."
--Field Level Media