Postgame schadenfreude, You Can’t Spell Choke and Collapse Without a C Edition

The Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales:

After leading the National League Central by five games on Sept. 3, the Cubs’ season has been reduced to a win-or-go-home scenario.

The Brewers applied a blend of timely hitting and dominant pitching Monday to beat the Cubs 3-1 in the division tiebreaker before 38,450 fans at Wrigley Field.

By virtue of their victory, the Brewers earned the NL Central title and won’t play until Thursday, when they host the first of two games of the best-of-five NL Division Series.

The Cubs, whose two-year reign as NL Central champions was snapped, will play host to the loser of the NL West tiebreaker between the Rockies and Dodgers on Tuesday in the NL wild-card game.

The winner will face the Brewers.

Orlando Arcia collected the first four-hit game of his career and scored the go-ahead run during a two-run eighth.

The Cubs were held to three hits, scoring their lone run on a game-tying home run by Anthony Rizzo in the fifth. …

The Cubs’ failure to solve Orlando Arcia reached a new low when Arcia hit a curve on an 0-2 pitch off left-hander Justin Wilson for a single.

Domingo Santana followed with a double down the left field line, forcing Cubs manager Joe Maddon to pull Wilson in favor of Steve Cishek, making his 80th appearance.

But Lorenzo Cain smacked a 3-2 pitch up the middle and yelled vigorously at his teammates while running to first base as Arcia scored to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead.

Left-hander Randy Rosario struck out Christian Yelich, but Brandon Kintzler allowed an RBI single to Ryan Braun to the delight of several thousand Brewers fans.

The Brewers scored twice in the top of the eighth inning, thus allowing manager Craig Counsell to go to his strength – the back end of his bullpen.

Left-hander Josh Hader struck out Jason Heyward on a slider, induced pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr. to line out to second and whiffed Willson Contreras on a 98 mph fastball to end the eighth.

The Chicago Sun–Times’ Steve Greenberg:

The Cubs gave it a shot. The best team in the National League wasn’t having any of it.

So much for a third straight NL Central title for a Cubs team that had the best record in the league for long enough that, at times, home-field advantage in the playoffs seemed like a foregone conclusion.

The Brewers came to Wrigley Field and ripped the title away with a 3-1 victory in a Game 163 tiebreaker. And they did it with rock-solid pitching, locked-in hitting and loud, proud fans in the Wrigley Field stands — a not-so-subtle payback for all those mass migrations of Cubs fans to Miller Park.

Not a rivalry? Please. …

For the Cubs, it’s a gut-punch. Jon Lester could steady the ship Tuesday with an outing worthy of an ace, but this team, with its already compromised bullpen, wasn’t well prepared for an audible the size of this one. The Brewers simply refused to yield, however, winning seven straight — and 27 of 37 — heading into the tiebreaker.

The Brewers earned this one. The Cubs can’t be called unlucky, let alone the better team. …

The Cubs burned through six different relievers, something that should make it hard for manager Joe Maddon to get a decent night’s sleep. This was the least desirable of all potential scenarios. Jesse Chavez put in a hard day’s work. Justin Wilson could be close to spent. Steve Cishek appears to be running on fumes. Randy Rosario, Brandon Kintzler and Jaime Garcia all pitched.

How long can Lester go on Tuesday? Will he come through in the playoffs yet again? Or will a Cubs team making its fourth straight postseason appearance turn out — just like that — to be toast?

The Trib’s Steve Rosenbloom:

Jose Quintana, your patsy was ready.

The Brewers were in town, and hot or not, MVP candidate or no, they were the exact team the Cubs needed to see with Quintana ready to go on regular rest.

In fact, they were the one team for whom the Cubs would send a fleet of limos. Quintana might not be the consistent arm the Cubs had anticipated when they acquired him from the White Sox last season, but he had consistently owned the Brewers.

In six starts against them this season, Quintana posted a 2.17 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. In 10 lifetime starts against Milwaukee, Quintana was even better — a 1.60 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. The Brewers were the only team against whom Quintana had a WHIP below 1.0. Yes, this was his patsy. This was his start. This was his chance to give the fatigued Cubs a couple days off before the NL Division Series and home-field advantage as long as they survive the league’s postseason.

But no. Didn’t happen. The Brewers won the NL Central in Wrigley Field, though you can’t blame Quintana. You can blame the Cubs offense and bullpen, and maybe the manager for going to the bullpen so early.

Quintana wasn’t dominant. He was barreled up at times. But he gave the Cubs a chance to win, as much as he was allowed to while throwing just 64 pitches, giving up one run in five-plus innings.

Then it became a bullpen game, which would set off the much-discussed weirdness that wove through the day and the game, one of two tiebreakers to decide NL division titles and wild-card combatants, the first in Wrigley the other in Dodger Stadium.

It wasn’t win-or-walk for the Cubs, Brewers, Dodgers or Rockies, but it was the next-closest thing when you consider the fear every team has of the coin flip that is the one-game wild card.

For the Cubs and Brewers, the importance was more acute because they would hold home-field advantage for as long as they stayed alive in the NL bracket.

That led to the big pregame question of whether the managers empty the bullpen only with a lead to avoid being forced to play Tuesday, knowing if they won Monday’s game, then they would have a couple days to let their arms recover.

With neither starter completing the sixth, we got an answer. The bullpen battle turned into a parade of high-leverage relievers in a game tied at 1. Tuesday didn’t appear to matter. Maddon used four relievers in the eighth inning, and unfortunately one was the Justin Wilson from 2017 that made your eyes bleed and another was this week’s Steve Cishek that made everyone tired and yet another was mid-season acquisition Brandon Kintzler who might as well have stayed in Washington.

Like that, the Brewers led 3-1 lead and their bullpen played to asphyxiating form. White Sox closer Joakim Soria fanned Javier Baez to end the sixth, then came Corey Knebel in the seventh and Josh Hader in the eighth and ninth. The Cubs still haven’t touched that bullpen and might not if you’d given them all night.

As they have done all season, the Cubs hitters proved mystifyingly inconsistent. After blowing up against the Cardinals on Sunday, the Cubs flat-lined Monday, managing just two hits other than Anthony Rizzo’s massive solo blast. That’s how you blow a great opportunity to sail into the postseason.

To think, a month ago the Cubs held a five-game lead over the Brewers and looked set to roll to their third straight division title. The Brewers caught them, and now have passed them.

Tuesday’s crapshoot game awaits. Win, and the Cubs advance to the NL Division Series on Thursday against these same Brewers. Quick, someone tell the Cubs offense that hitting in October is not optional.

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