With seven games left against the Cardinals, the Cubs aren't thinking about the National League wild-card race yet.
But with only 20 games remaining after Sunday's finale of the four-game series in Milwaukee, an 8-5 Cubs loss, there's a good chance that will be the Cubs' best hope of making the postseason. Five other teams are bunched together with the Cubs, not including the Central-leading Cardinals.
Here are seven things to know about the NL wild-card race.
1. Wild-card teams face long odds to win the World Series.
In the first 18 seasons of the wild-card's existence, when the team with the best second-place record faced the division winner with the best record, only five teams went on to win the World Series: the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox and 2011 Cardinals.
A little bit of luck, and clutch hitting, appear to be a common denominator.
The Marlins beat the cursed Indians 4-3 in the World Series thanks in part to Tony Gonzalez's key error in the 11th inning of Game 7. Florida may not have gotten that far if not for home-plate umpire Eric Gregg's ridiculously enlarged strike zone in Game 5 of their National League Championship Series matchup against the Braves when Livan Hernandez struck out 15 batters.
The Angels, aided by their ubiquitous Rally Monkey, came back from a 3-2 deficit to win the '02 World Series against Dusty Baker's Giants. The '03 Marlins trailed Baker's Cubs 3-1 before coming back in the NLCS, including the famous Game 6 stunner remembered locally as "The Steve Bartman Game." The '04 Red Sox became the only team in history to win a playoff series when trailing 3-0, digging themselves out of a grave to beat the Yankees 4-3 in the American League Championship Series, before sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series to end their 86-year championship drought. The '11 Cardinals trailed the Rangers 3-2 in the series before staging a ninth-inning comeback from two runs down, then a tenth-inning comeback from two runs down, to win Game 6 10-9 in 11 innings.
2. And the expanded postseason has made it even tougher.
Since the postseason expanded in 2012, adding another wild-card team in each league and staging a pair of do-or-die wild-card games, only one wild-card team has won a World Series in seven years — the 2014 Giants.
Madison Bumgarner threw a complete game shutout over the Pirates to win the wild-card game, threw another complete game shutout against the Royals in Game 5 of the World Series, and added five innings of scoreless relief to win Game 7 in Kansas City. The Giants still have Bumgarner for a few more weeks, but they're basically out of the race.
3. A Nationals-Cubs wild-card game looks like the likeliest bet.
As it stands now, the Cubs would face the Nationals in the wild-card game Oct. 1 at Nationals Park.
The Nats swept the Cubs last month at Wrigley Field and would likely have either Cy Young favorite Stephen Strasburg, three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer or Patrick Corbin for the wild-card game. In other words, pick your poison.
On the other hand, the Nats never have won a postseason series in the team's existence. The Cubs beat them in a wacky Game 5 of the NLDS in 2017 to advance to the NLCS, where they were knocked out in five games by the Dodgers. Scherzer, the 2017 Cy Young winner, started Game 5, which turned out to be Baker's final game as manager.
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4. Don't look now, but the Diamondbacks are breathing down the Cubs' necks.
The wild-card contender with the most momentum is the Diamondbacks, who even after losing Sunday have 11 wins in 13 games. They trail the Cubs by only 1½ games for the second spot.
When the D'backs dealt ace Zack Greinke to the Astros at the trade deadline, most considered it the equivalent of waving the white flag. But unsung Ketel Marte is leading the no-name offense, and the starters began September 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA in their first six games, fueling the surge. Since Aug. 18, their .778 winning percentage (14-4) was third-best in the majors. The Cubs are 4-2 against the Diamondbacks, but the teams haven't played since April. After a four-game series against the Mets starting Monday in New York, 12 of the Diamondbacks' final 15 games are against the lowly Reds, Marlins and Padres.
5. A one-man show in Milwaukee has kept the Brewers' hopes alive.
After losing to the Cubs on Thursday night at Miller Park, the only reasons left to go to Brewers games seemingly were the Sausage Race, the singing of "Beer Barrel Polka" and watching Christian Yelich rake. But Yelich has almost single-handedly kept them in the race, including three stolen bases and a walk-off, RBI double against the Cubs in Saturday's comeback win.
Yelich could be the X-factor down the stretch, but can he carry them all the way through September? The Brewers beat the Cubs in Game No. 163 last year at Wrigley Field, as if anyone needed reminding.
6. The Walking Dead reside in Queens.
When the Cubs swept the Mets in Citi Field two weeks ago, it was considered a back-breaker. When the Mets' bullpen blew a six-run, ninth-inning lead in a stunning loss to the Nationals on Tuesday, it was another back-breaker. But the Mets are still loitering, in spite of all those broken backs.
You can't count out a rotation with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, or so everyone says. But they'll have to go on a prolonged hot streak now. The Mets have two key home series this week against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, which should determine whether they're pretenders or not.
7. Ladies and gentlemen, start your booing.
The Phillies staged a memorable comeback against the Cubs on Aug. 15 at Citizens Bank Park when Bryce Harper's walk-off grand slam off Derek Holland capped a 7-5 win. But they failed to capitalize on it, going 9-10 heading into Sunday's series finale with the Mets.
"I think we know we've been written off, and we don't care," manager Gabe Kapler said before Saturday's win in New York.
Unfortunately, Harper was out of the lineup Saturday and Sunday with a sore right hand after being hit by a pitch.
The Phillies have the toughest schedule to end the season, with a homestand this week against the Braves and Red Sox, followed by road series at the Braves, Indians and Nationals. Though the Braves have virtually clinched the NL East, they're closing in on the Dodgers for the best overall record in the National League — and homefield advantage if they meet in the NLCS.