After a 2-1 loss Friday, the Cubs have dropped the first two games of this crucial series while giving up only 7 runs total across the 19 innings.
The Cubs are now 5 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central with only 8 games to play, essentially putting any thoughts of a division title to bed.
It also means they will once again wake up Saturday morning out of a playoff spot.
—Where is the offense?
The lineup that averaged 13.75 runs per game and hit .393 as a team in the first four games of this homestand is suddenly nowhere to be found.
Outside of the 3-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday, the Cubs have scored just 6 runs in the other 36 offensive innings since Monday.
They're hitting just .180 total over the last four games and that mark dips to .111 with runners in scoring position (they hit .553 with runners in scoring position during the first four games of the homestand).
The Cubs also walked more than they struck out (4 to 3) and one of the strikeouts was by pitcher Alec Mills, so there’s definitely an element of bad luck at play here.
On Friday, they hit into four double plays, including Kyle Schwarber bouncing into a twin killing with the bases loaded to end the third inning. He also watched his bunt single to lead off the eighth inning get erased by Willson Contreras' double play on the very next pitch.
Even Anthony Rizzo's return atop the order has not been enough to spark this offense and the lineup is continuing its Jekyll and Hyde ways at the absolute worst time.
Rizzo walked to lead off the bottom of the first inning, but was immediately erased when Nicholas Castellanos lined into a double play. Rizzo also clearly looked compromised running the bases in the third inning after his single, as he could not score from second base on Kris Bryant's hit down the line and was ultimately stranded there on Schwarber's double play ball.
—Yadier Molina continues to come up with big hits against the Cubs.
The Cardinals didn't muster up much offense of their own Friday afternoon, going only 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. But that one hit was a big one — a 2-run single from Molina in the sixth inning after a pair of Cubs relievers (David Phelps, Steve Cishek) combined to walk the first three hitters of the inning.
—Alec Mills pitched well once again, this time in spot start duty while Cole Hamels deals with an ailing shoulder.
Mills tossed 4.2 shutout innings and now has a 2.90 ERA this season. He's been extremely effective in limited big-league duty over the last two seasons, posting a 3.31 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 across 49 innings (15 appearances).
Joe Maddon has compared him to Kyle Hendricks a couple different times and it's easy to see the comparison, especially when Mills is spinning a 66 mph curveball, 79 mph changeup and 91 mph fastball.
Next season is a long way off, but Mills has certainly pitched himself into the conversation for a spot in the 2020 rotation or bullpen.
—The Cubs bullpen walked 7 batters in 4.1 innings of work.
The back-to-back-to-back walks in the sixth inning wound up being the dagger, but overall, this was not the best performance from a unit that entered the day with the best bullpen ERA in the big leagues this month.
What's worse is the Cubs utilized eight different pitchers after Mills left the game, including most of the team's top relievers. That could leave some slim pickings for Saturday's game, especially considering Rowan Wick (32 pitches Friday) will likely be unavailable.
The Brewers host the Pirates Friday night and hold a 1.5-game lead on the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot.
Milwaukee lost Christian Yelich 10 days ago and their offense has been very similar to the Cubs over that entire time, but they're still somehow finding ways to win games:
After an off-day Thursday, the Nationals are back in action Friday against the 99-loss Marlins in Miami.
The Nationals currently own a 1-game lead for the top Wild-Card spot, meaning they're 2.5 games ahead of the Cubs at the moment to host the one-game playoff.
The Cubs and Cardinals play another afternoon matinee game Saturday at Wrigley Field with Jose Quintana and Dakota Hudson facing off.
Quintana will be working on an extra day of rest after the Cubs opted to move him back to Saturday and inserting Mills into the rotation for a spot start.
If the Cubs thought the earlier games were "must-win," these next couple become even more important as they have now dug themselves quite the hole.
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