Cubs clinch playoff spot while losing to Pirates
What's more 2020 than clinching a playoff spot while losing on a walk-off home run?
That's what happened to the Cubs on Tuesday. They lost 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Jacob Stallings' walk off homer off Andrew Chafin in the ninth inning, after Anthony Rizzo tied it with a dramatic 2-run homer in the eighth.
But the Cubs clinched a spot in the postseason for the fifth time in six years when Philadelphia was swept in a doubleheader by Washington. The Cubs' magic number to clinch the NL Central stayed at four.
"I think we've shown up every day with good energy," Rizzo said. "I know this is game 50-whatever, but it feel like it's game 150-something. We've been going since February. I know we had a long break, but this feels like it's the end of 162."
The playoffs have seemed inevitable since early August when the Cubs got off to a 13-3 start, but David Ross appreciated getting it done in his first year as a major league manager.
"I just said how proud I was of the guys and how thankful I was for their hard work and their commitment to this group," Ross said. "For a first-time manager to go to the playoffs, I was super thankful and proud and appreciate all their hard work."
The Cubs' lack of offense didn't go away in this game. They were blanked on 2 hits for seven innings by Pirates lefty Steven Brault. Rizzo's homer came against reliever Sam Howard.
Brault had been a short-stint starter most of the season. He pitched three perfect innings against the Cubs on Aug. 2 at Wrigley Field before departing. His longest outing this year had been five innings, until last Thursday when he pitched a complete-game 5-1 victory over St. Louis.
"I thought that kid just pitched a really good game," Ross said. "I think that's easy to (reference) our left-handed struggles and that's fine. There's no denying that. But I thought the kid threw a really good game and sometimes you've just got to give credit to the kid on the other side."
Jose Quintana lasted just 2 innings in his first start of 2020, giving up 2 hits and a run on 34 pitches. The veteran lefty has been on the injured list with a lacerated thumb and left lat inflammation this season. He threw 6 innings out of the bullpen in between injuries. Ross said Quintana is likely to start Sunday's season finale against the White Sox.
A bigger story might have been Adbert Alzolay's relief stint, where he struck out seven and allowed 1 run in 4 innings. Alzolay has been in South Bend working on his slider and in this game, it looked like a potential playoff weapon.
"There's a lot of people involved with that pitch. I put in work the last 10 days," Alzolay said. "We changed the grip on the pitch because it was going 80-82, it was coming down (in velocity). So we got a new grip on the pitch so I can stay behind the ball longer."
Kris Bryant got the night off after suffering an oblique injury while swinging the bat Monday. Ross said before the game Bryant and the trainers are optimistic he won't need a trip to the injured list, so consider him day-to-day.