Sep 29, 2023 - Sports

Chicago Cubs fans are bracing for the worst in playoff push

baseball player catching something

Pete Crow-Armstrong dives but fails to catch a fly ball in the eighth inning at Truist Park on Wednesday in Atlanta. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After 2016, Cubs fans were happy to purge the dreaded "c-word" from their vocabulary. The World Series win broke the "curse."

Why it matters: The curse — supposedly started over a goat — is believed to have led to late-season breakdowns, unfathomable losing streaks and the ball bouncing the wrong way.

  • Fast-forward to 2023, and fans are feeling déjà vu all over again.

State of play: The team entered September with a solid hold on the second wild card position, so all that was undecided was how much you'd get gouged for parking come playoff time.

Yes, but: After going 11-15 in September, the Cubs are now behind the Miami Marlins for the last wild card spot with only three games left in the season.

  • The lowlight: Seiya Suzuki lost a routine fly ball in the lights in the ninth inning in Atlanta on Tuesday, sealing another frustrating loss.

By the numbers: The Cubs have lost five games in September when leading in or after the eighth inning. That ties a record going back 50 years.

  • Closer Adbert Alzolay was out most of the month, but he plans to return tonight.

What they're saying: "Ultimately, I would hope that the real benefit of '16 is people believing good things can happen," Cubs president Jed Hoyer said this week. "The supernatural is not causing missed fly balls to Brant Brown and Seiya Suzuki."

Zoom out: The losses aren't on par with the '69 Cubs losing a 20-game lead, and the team's misfortune doesn't rival Leon Durham's Gatorade-soaked glove in San Diego, but consider Brown's drop in 1998 and, of course, the 2003 meltdown (against the Marlins), and it all seems eerily the same.

Reality check: The Cubs weren't expected to compete for a playoff spot this year. So even with an epic meltdown, they've played meaningful baseball until the last weekend of the season.

  • "This is the most excruciating, agonizing September for either team in this town in a long, long time," The Score's Matt Spiegel tells Axios.
  • "But … this is what everyone wanted! September baseball that matters."

What's next: The Brewers. The Cubs finish the season this weekend in Milwaukee. And if they can catch the surging Marlins, they'll play the three-game wild card playoff series against … the Brewers in Milwaukee.

The bottom line: It may not be a curse, but the Cubs need to win to avoid the 2023 season being added to the legend of the lovable losers.

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