All of baseball has the first pitch in the 2:05-2:20 p.m. time slot Sunday, a chance to make scoreboard watching a mandatory act on the final day of the regular season.
That means everyone at Wrigley Field will be watching with great interest as the numbers of the Brewers-Tigers game get posted in the innings windows of the old center-field scoreboard.
It may be outdated, anachronistic and lacking the kind of between-innings information demanded by modern-day attention spans, but on Sunday that clunky, old board that has served as the backdrop of a billion selfies finally gets its star turn.
The Cubs made sure of that Saturday, losing 2-1 to the Cardinals on a quiet afternoon at Wrigley to ensure Sunday’s games would have relevance.
Yes, the Cubs and Brewers race is good to the last drop, just the way you guessed.
After the Brewers’ 6-5 victory over the Tigers on Saturday night at Miller Park, the teams were tied for first place in the National League Central with identical 94-67 records heading into the final day of the regular season. Both teams play at home, where they both are 50-30.
It’s great for baseball, though perhaps a bit nerve-wracking for the Cubs, who have had a number of chances to put some space between them and their nearest rival in the second half, only to fail to land a knockout punch.
Now the Cubs could play the Brewers in a division tiebreaker game Monday at Wrigley Field, or in the NL Division Series which starts Thursday. Or they could lose the wild-card game and end their season with a grandiose thud.
No one really can guess what will happen thanks to the Cubs’ incredibly shrinking offense, which comes and goes like an L train through a slow zone. You almost expect a CTA-like announcement periodically informing fans: “This offense will resume service momentarily.”
There’s no safety net now. This Brewers bunch has been on the Cubs’ tails for two years running, and has refused to fade away in September.
Kris Bryant admitted last weekend he had started scoreboard watching for the first time in his big-league career.
“Yeah, that didn’t go very good,” Bryant said with a laugh.
The East Coast media honchos have ignored the Brewers as they have force-fed the Yankees, Red Sox and, yes, the Cubs, down America’s throats. But the Cubs know better that to overlook them.
This is no Cinderella story. The Brewers are a team that was on the cusp in 2017 and went for it in the offseason.
“I like a lot of their players. They have character, they’re kind of interesting,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Even the addition of (Mike) Moustakas was a great move on their part.
“I’ve liked this group for two years now — ‘Citizen Cain’ in center field. They have a nice group that provides a lot of good energy. I don’t know why (they’re overlooked). Like you’re saying, maybe (being a) small market has something to do with it.”
Bryant lauded their offseason moves, when the Brewers changed the future of the franchise on one January day with the signing of Lorenzo Cain and the trade for the Marlins’ Christian Yelich, the current MVP favorite.
“They really nailed it with Yelich and Cain, and the emergence of some of the guys in their bullpen has really helped them out,” Bryant said before the Cubs’ loss. “It’s going to be a nice battle these two games, and maybe even into the playoffs.”
Letting the Brewers hang around all year has proven to be a big mistake, which is why the Cubs need to pay close attention Sunday to the 81-year-old scoreboard.
“Obviously they’re right behind us, so it’s natural to glance at the scoreboard and see what’s going on,” Bryant said.
“But it really does no good. We have to go out there and win. That’s why I said (Friday) I’m not going to go home and watch (the Brewers) game. That’s not going to change the way we play.
“We just have to win these games, regardless of what they do.”
On Aug. 14, the Cubs began a two-game series with the Brewers at Wrigley, owning a three-game lead in the National League Central. Jose Quintana, who basically has owned the Brewers since arriving on the North Side, was on the mound, and the Cubs were coming off the natural high of the “Bote Game” — the walk-off grand slam of rookie David Bote against the Nationals.
But Cain opened with a leadoff home run, and longtime Cubs-killer Ryan Braun added a two-run shot later in the first. The Brewers wound up with a 7-0 victory, limiting the Cubs to only three hits.
“It was pretty close to a must-win,” Braun said afterward. “If you want to stay in the division race, you had to win one of two. Ideally you have to win both.”
The Cubs had a few more opportunities to put their foot on the Brewers’ neck, but lost four of six games to them in September, including the excruciating Labor Day loss at Miller Park when Bryant unsuccessfully tried to pull off a 5-3 double play on a Yelich grounder as the winning run scored from third.
If the Cubs and Brewers do play a tiebreaker game Monday, that Brewers comeback victory will be a big reason why.
When I asked him Saturday morning, Bryant wasn’t sure he would watch the Brewers game that night.
“I might be more compelled to watch because it puts us in a better position (if they lose),” he said. “But I don’t know. It kind of puts you in a weird mindset as a baseball player that you hardly ever find yourself in.
“So why go there?”
The weird part is that if the Brewers and Cubs match what the other does, the playoff Monday afternoon will send the winner to the Division Series Thursday and the loser to the wild card playoff Tuesday. That would be unprecedented, but the same thing could happen in the NL West.