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  • The Cubs' Toughest Opponents Now Are Their Past Selves, and the Calendar

    Matt Trueblood

    There wasn't any real harm in the Cubs' 5-3 loss Tuesday night against the White Sox. It was just one of those inevitable losses that happens, during a long season. Unfortunately, the Cubs can't necessarily afford the inevitable losses.

    Image courtesy of © Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

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    When players, coaches, broadcasters, and fans spend April reciting the old saw about every game counting the same in the standings, it seems forced. It feels like manufactured urgency. In April, we are all young, and life is long, and there is time to kill. Under the aegis of the promise of a long summer ahead, teams fritter and waste the occasional spring battle. Eric Hosmer can play for a while. The front office's confected bullpen can take time to settle and cure.

    Now, though, the truth that made those cliches so popular is falling hard on this Cubs team. On Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, they lost a game they could have won, but not necessarily one they should have won. The White Sox scored a few runs on an assortment of modestly struck hits against Kyle Hendricks, and Luis Robert landed the decisive blow when Julian Merryweather hung a seventh-inning slider. Hendricks's stuff is permanently diminished, and his arm-side command of the sinker is inconsistent. He didn't have it early on Tuesday, and it got him into trouble. Merryweather has been, by and large, excellent this year, but he seems to have an unfortunate knack for giving up long hits when the leverage index is highest.

    The Cubs lost the game on the bases, too. Steals set up two White Sox runs, and a deadeye's dart by Yasmani Grandal cut down Nico Hoerner to take the tying run off the paths in the home seventh. It was just a tough night. They happen. These are the contests that even 100-win teams lose--the ones where the luck and the lean of things just seem to go against you.

    Therein lies the rub. The problem is that, after starting 26-36 and 43-50, the Cubs have so little margin for error that even these losses hurt. The Brewers lead the division by 3.5 games, and the Reds are tied with Chicago. The Marlins have a one-game lead on them for the final Wild Card spot, and they also own the tiebreaker. There are only 43 games left in the regular season. Six of those are against the Brewers, and four are against the Reds. Seven are against the Diamondbacks, who lurk just 1.5 games behind them in the Wild Card chase. Three are against the Giants, who are two games ahead.

    Time is running short. The Cubs find themselves running and running to catch up to the sun, but it's sinking--racing around to come up behind them again. They're the ones who gave themselves so little time to close their deficits, so they have no one but themselves to blame. Still, it's a wrenching feeling, because there's no reason why Tuesday night's loss ought to feel lousy--except that it's a loss, and this has to be winning time. This team now has to play like something better than a 100-win team, and that might not be possible.

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    Generally agree with everything except the last piece. We're a game back of the -37 Marlins for the third wild card spot and neither of the top two slots are locked up either, so it's not like we're having to beat Miami, Cincinnati, Arizona, I guess still San Diego for one spot. Does it take a 100+ win pace to make up two games on Marlins with 43 games left to play?

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    One thing I will say is that each component of the team has been pretty good to great almost all year with one major exception: The offense in high-leverage spots. I never feel like they're gonna come through and it's backed up in fg's clutch metric. This late push they are making could turn out to be just one big 9th inning tease-fail and end up just like 2018 where the Brewers do just enough to take the division.

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