Tipsheet keeps expecting the Chicago Cubs to make their push for the National League Central lead.
But bad things keep happening to that would-be dynasty on the Windy City's North Side. After winning at Milwaukee Thursday night, the Cubs lost their next three games to the Brewers to fall 4 1/2 games back of the Cardinals with 20 games to play.
"Other teams have played better than us," Cubs pitcher Jon Lester told reporters after absorbing an 8-6 loss to the Brew Crew. "The Cardinals, I think I saw something the other day, they've had the best record since the All-Star break. So, they've flat-out played better than us."
Along the way the Cubs lost infielder Javier Baez, one of their MVPs, to a broken thumb. Closer Craig Kimbrel went back on the injured list, this time with a sore elbow.
Starting pitcher Yu Darvish has encountered a some forearm soreness and slugger Kris Bryant has been in and out of the lineup with nagging knee injury.
"Normally this time of the year, we've parceled out the year to the point that we are not beat up, not tired, not hurt," Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters before Sunday's game. "This year, it's been harder to do that."
Suddenly the Cubs feel find themselves in another downward spiral. The Cubs still have seven games against the Cardinals in the final 10 games of the season, but they are in danger of falling out of range as they head to the West Coast for a four-game series at San Diego.
"Honestly, there's only one way to deal with moments like this, and that is in the moment," Maddon said during his postgame media session Sunday. "Anxiety lives in the future. You've got to stay right here, right now. Things can change just as quickly. We could win the first three games in San Diego easily and other teams could lose. You've just got to take care of yourself on a nightly basis."
For now, scoreboard watching doesn't do this team much good.
"All we can do is show up and play," Lester said. "Hopefully, I pitch better. That's all you can do. You can't sit here and mope and complain about this."
The Cubs currently hold the second wild card slot, but the torrid Diamondbacks are just 1 1/2 games back of them. The Philadelphia Phillies are two games back, as are the Brewers -- who have won five of their last seven games against the Cubs.
"These guys seem to play us extremely difficult," Lester said. "Now, you've got the D-backs making a run. Obviously, the Phillies are right there.
"That's the exciting part about having two Wild Card spots. Now, you've got four or five teams involved as opposed to just one. We've got to buckle down and play better."
RED SOX IMPLOSION LEADS TO UPHEAVAL
Here is what folks were writing about the demise of Red Sox baseball czar Dave Dombrowski Sunday night:
Dan Shaugnnessy, Boston Globe: "Dave Dombrowski is out as baseball boss of the Red Sox. The news broke after midnight that Boston’s president of baseball operations had been fired. Fair or unfair, this felt inevitable. I wrote last month that I would be shocked if Dombrowski was still GM next year and those words were greeted with stony silence on Jersey Street. No one came to the defense of a boss that had just won the World Series and had finished in first place in each of his first three full seasons. Dombrowski did exactly what he was hired to do when the Sox brought him on board in the summer of 2015. He traded prospects for veteran talent. He signed big name free agents. He threw around contract extensions like fun-sized Halloween candies. He ignored draft and development. And he ignored a lot of the people who worked at Fenway Park. The Sox won every year until this year. And each season, Dombrowski became more isolated inside the walls of Fenway. He holed up with his buddies Frank Wren and Tony La Russa. He insisted that Sam Kennedy have zero input on all baseball decisions and never clicked with the 'new' CEO. Dombrowski was not particularly close to the people in baseball ops. Or Tom Werner. In the end, Dombrowski did not have much support from Alex Cora. No one in a Sox uniform was happy last week in Anaheim when Dombrowski failed to bring major league arms to California after a 15-inning win on a Friday night at the Big A. The next night, Cora was forced to call on weary, worn-out Ryan Brasier in relief of a critical game. Brasier blew a 4-3 lead, giving up six runs in the eighth inning. It was front office malpractice. Things were coming to a head."
Jon Tayler, SI.com: "The move ends Dombrowski’s Red Sox career after four-plus seasons in charge, which will be best remembered for the 2018 squad that racked up 108 wins, an AL East crown, a pennant and the franchise’s fourth World Series victory in the last 15 years (plus division titles in 2016 and ‘17). But repeating as champion is hard: No one’s done it since the Yankees pulled the trick 19 years ago. And when you reach such great heights, any fall can seem like a massive plunge. And so it’s been this season: Sunday’s shellacking dropped the Sox to 17 1/2 games out of first place in the division (the Yankees can officially eliminate them with a win Monday) and eight games out of the second wild-card spot with just 19 left on the calendar. Despite being on pace to score more runs than last year’s edition, Boston will likely finish with 20 fewer wins, owed mostly to a pitching staff that’s been crushed by injuries and mediocre at best when called upon. What makes that stumble all the more notable is that Dombrowski returned almost the entirety of the roster that hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy last October. While previous regimes had gifted him core contributors like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers, Dombrowski acquired Chris Sale, David Price, J.D. Martinez, Craig Kimbrel, Nate Eovaldi and several other key pieces of last year’s championship squad, as well as manager Alex Cora. To build that team, though, he had to spend heavily both in terms of money and prospects, and the bill seemingly came due this season. Boston’s $253 million payroll is far and away the biggest in the league, and its farm system is one of the game’s weaker ones. The result was a club short on depth and that, aside from re-signing Eovaldi, tightened its purse strings in free agency last winter."
Jeff Passan, ESPN.com: "The signing of Price has produced solid return but not the sort expected from a $217 million deal. He has $96 million remaining on the final three years of his contract. Sale, who is out for the remainder of the season with a left-elbow issue, signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension in spring training that doesn't begin until next season. Dombrowski also gave $68 million to right-hander Natham Eovaldi, who has struggled in his first season of the four-year deal. The three will cost a combined $79 million in each of the next three seasons -- years during which the Red Sox have other significant moves to consider. Their franchise player, right fielder Mookie Betts, can hit free agency after the 2020 season. Martinez, a middle-of-the-lineup force for the past two seasons, can opt out of the final three years of his contract this winter."
“If you’re going to have a good season, a special season, you have to have unexpected guys step up. Today was a day we [had] great contributions from some guys who haven’t been here all year. That’s what has to happen. We’ve got enough injuries where we know that’s going to have to happen right now.”
Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell, during his postgame media session after Sunday's victory.