The Cubs needed eight relievers and two four-run rallies Sunday just for the right to play the Brewers to determine the National League Central title.
But along the way to a 10-5 victory over the Cardinals, long-awaited contributions surfaced that have the Cubs believing their playoff run could be formidable.
“Whatever it takes, we’ll be ready,” Anthony Rizzo said after a 4-for-4 performance that included the go-ahead double during a four-run third inning that shifted the mood of a sellout crowd of 39,275 at Wrigley Field.
After overcoming a 2-0 deficit with clutch hitting and 6 2/3 innings from the bullpen, the Cubs felt better about their chances against the Brewers, who overcame a five-game deficit on Sept. 3 and won their final seven games to finish with the same 95-67 record as the Cubs after 162 games.
The Cubs earned the right to host the tiebreaker based on their 11-8 record in the season series, but the Brewers won four of the six games against the Cubs in September and possess the hottest hitter in the game in Christian Yelich.
The winner gets a two-day break and home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs, while the loser will host the NL wild-card game on Tuesday against the loser of the Rockies-Dodgers tiebreaker.
“You are managing two games (Monday),” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s how you get out of the blocks, feel what’s going on, and make your best guess. But you have to consider both games.
“Of course you want to win (Monday). But if it gets more bleak, then you have to start considering the next day.”
Maddon said the Cubs adjusted their rotation so left-hander Jose Quintana, who is 6-2 lifetime with a 1.60 ERA in 10 career starts against the Brewers, would be lined up to pitch Monday.
A bigger issue for the Cubs, however, is the state of their bullpen. Maddon didn’t use Jesse Chavez or Justin Wilson on Sunday, and Steve Cishek threw only 10 pitches in his 79th appearance.
“We need a good start out of Q,” Maddon said. “That’s really important for us to be successful. That’s going to be a big part of it.”
The other important factor will be getting a lead early to prevent the Brewers from using their dominant relief threesome of Josh Hader, Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell hasn’t named a starter, but all signs point to Jhoulys Chacin, a slider maven who has been pulled early in each of his last five starts because of the team’s reliance on its bullpen.
“It’s going to be a different animal,” Maddon said of the need to score early. “Everyone will be in this heightened awareness. We talked about being more alert than normal.”
The Cubs were 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position Sunday, and Willson Contreras hit a two-run home run, his first since Aug. 1, to cap a four-run fifth.
“I know haven’t hit (many) homers this season, but you have be able to forget about that and help your team in any way,” Contreras said. “We trust ourselves and (knew) there was a lot of game left.”
Rizzo’s third-inning double helped him become the first left-handed hitter in franchise history with at least 100 RBIs in four seasons.
“It’s something I take pride in,” said Rizzo, who had nine RBIs on April 30. “To be honest, I didn’t think in May I’d be able to reach that. It feels good, but all that personal stuff doesn’t matter. It’s all about a win (Monday).
“I’ll reflect on that stuff in the first or second week of the offseason. Now we got to figure out a way to win Monday.”