MILWAUKEE—With two days left in the regular season, the Cubs appear on track for a showdown against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
Friday's 5-1 loss to Milwaukee put the Brewers a game ahead of the New York Mets in the wild-card playoff race, pointing toward another postseason matchup between Lou Piniella and Joe Torre.
Ryan Dempster pitched five innings of one-run ball before Piniella took him out to get some rest before his start in the playoff opener Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
But Corey Hart's bloop RBI single off Jeff Samardzija snapped a 1-1 tie in the sixth, and Rickie Weeks cranked a three-run home run off Chad Gaudin in the seventh to cap a rally that began when pitcher Seth McClung reached on Koyie Hill's catcher's interference.
Gaudin looked to be a lock for the postseason roster only a month ago, but he injured his back in a mysterious accident and hasn't been the same since returning a week ago. Piniella said he's trying to get Gaudin plenty of work, but he conceded, "That's not going very well."
Gaudin insisted his back was fine and he doesn't feel as though he rushed back to the Cubs before he was ready. Is he thinking about the postseason spot?
"Of course," he said. "If I said I wasn't, I'd be lying. You have to go out there and get outs, and so far, I haven't been doing that."
After Friday's games, Milwaukee not only went ahead in the wild-card race, but the Mets fell two games behind Philadelphia in the NL East. If it stays like this, the Cubs will start the playoffs against the Dodgers.
Before Friday's game, Piniella said he didn't care whom the Cubs played.
"No preference," he said. "Regardless, whoever gets in, for us to get to what we want to accomplish, we're going to have to beat them in the first or second round, so it doesn't really matter to us.
"We have to be ready to play, whoever it is. All we can do is come in here and do the best we can. There's a fine balance between winning games and resting your team and doing what's best for your team. It's not easy. The preference would be to play somebody that was eliminated, and we could do exactly what we wanted to. Unfortunately, that's not the case."
Piniella used most of his regulars Friday against Milwaukee right-hander Jeff Suppan, after sitting Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in Thursday's game on a rainy night at Shea Stadium. But the night off didn't help any of his three sluggers, who combined to go 1-for-12 on Friday.
Catcher Geovany Soto got back into the lineup but lasted only five innings before aggravating his sore left hand and being removed in the middle of a sixth inning at-bat. Soto said he was OK afterward and that the injury wouldn't keep him out.
"We had a balk, a catcher's interference, bad baserunning," Piniella said. "Outside of that, we played well."