The Cubs clinched a fifth postseason berth in six seasons Tuesday night, but no thanks to Jacob Stallings — whose ninth-inning homer off Andrew Chafin gave the Pirates a 3-2 win over the Cubs.
Losses earlier in the night by the Phillies, who were swept in a doubleheader, assured the playoff spot for the Cubs, whose magic number for clinching the National League Central remained at 4, pending the Cardinals' later game against the Royals.
Anthony Rizzo's two-out, two-run homer in the eighth tied the game after another rough night by a scuffling Cubs lineup, and Adbert Alzolay produced another four impressive innings for the Cubs' hot-pitching bullpen.
But not enough on this night.
Manager David Ross said the team took time after the game to recognize the achievement despite the loss.
“I just said how proud I was of the guys and how thankful I was of their hard work and their commitment to this group and congratulated them,” he said. “And for a first-time manager to go to the playoffs, I was super thankful and proud and appreciated all the hard work.”
Takeaways from Tuesday's game:
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In his return from a lat injury, José Quintana cruised through a 14-pitch first inning and got two quick outs in the second before a single, wild pitch and Erik Gonzalez double gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead and assured Quintana would not see the third inning.
He finished with 34 pitches, struck out one and walked none, and generally looked sharp.
Barring a setback overnight after his first game since Aug. 30, he would start the season finale against the White Sox on Sunday in an effort to build toward a role near the end of the Cubs’ playoff rotation.
“It’s really good to be back and get a good chance to compete, especially at this point [in the division race],” Quintana said. “I feel great and all my stuff worked good.”
He seemed especially grateful to return from the injury in time to have a chance to be a factor in the playoffs after the team clinched Tuesday.
“It’s another opportunity to try for winning a World Series and it’s an honor for me to be here and to be a part of that. I’ve spent more time on the [injured] list, but it’s really good tonight to be back.”
The trouble with lefties
The Cubs’ problems against left-handed pitching was on display again for seven innings against Pirates starter Steven Brault, who held the Cubs to a pair of singles, including just one that reached the outfield.
That dropped the Cubs’ NL-worst season average against lefties to .197 (.619) OPS — until Rizzo’s homer off lefty Sam Howard.
"I think that kid just pitched a really good game," Ross said of Brault's performance, adding it had less to do with the struggles against lefties.
If there’s a glimmer of a bright side to that, it’s that most of the best pitchers the Cubs figure to face on the National League side of the postseason bracket are right-handers — at least until they see Atlanta’s Max Fried or the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Flicker of power
Rizzo’s homer was the Cubs’ first homer since Tuesday of last week — snapping a 59-inning homerless drought that included five full games.
In fact, the Cubs’ four homers in their previous 13 games Tuesday night in Pittsburgh were the fewest in the majors during that span.
Javy Báez had the Cubs’ most recent homer before Rizzo, in the second inning of a victory over Cleveland Sept. 15.
And the Cubs went 3-2 in the three homerless games despite scoring just 10 runs total.
He said it
“Rarely does it seem like everything on a team is firing at all times. And when that does happen, you win the World Series. Hopefully, we can do that and make a good run.” — Cubs reliever Craig Kimbrel, who hasn’t allowed a run in 11 of his last 12 outings, dating to early August (1.59 ERA and 24 strikeouts in that 11.1-inning stretch).
Kyle Hendricks (6-4, 2.93) makes his final regular-season start Wednesday a 6:05 p.m. in the third game of the four-game series in Pittsburgh. He is 3-0 with a 1.21 in four starts this month, most recently beating the Twins 1-0 with an eight-inning start.