The Chicago Cubs have hovered near the top of the NL wild-card race for a while. They just have not been able to take control.
Chicago will try to improve its postseason chances when it opens a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
With 13 games remaining in the regular season, the Cubs trail the San Francisco Giants by a half-game in the wild-card race. They briefly pulled into a tie with the Giants after beating the Florida Marlins 5-1 in the opener of a doubleheader Monday, but they then lost 5-2 in the second game.
“It was better than losing two,” Chicago manager Dusty Baker said. “We’ve been knocking on first place for a while. We’ll keep knocking until we kick the door in.”
The Cubs managed just five hits in Monday’s second game. They nearly pulled within a run in the ninth inning, but Florida right fielder Juan Encarnacion leapt and robbed Todd Walker of a two-run homer.
“That’s disappointing, man,” Walker said. “I’d hate to say you’d almost rather strike out (than see that catch), but it hurts more the way it happened.”
Kerry Wood will now try to improve the Cubs’ playoff chances. The 27-year-old right-hander won for the first time in five starts Thursday in a 5-4 victory over the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
Wood allowed four runs and five hits over seven innings. After giving up one run over the first four innings, he allowed three runs in a wild fifth inning in which he issued two walks and threw a wild pitch. But he said he did not allow one bad inning to affect his concentration.
“I didn’t sense that anybody was too worried about it,” said Wood, who won for the first time since Aug. 14. “We didn’t tighten up in the dugout or on the field.”
The Pirates, who are tied with the Cincinnati Reds for fourth place in the NL Central, have won two straight following a five-game losing streak.
Jason Bay hit his 24th homer of the season Sunday, setting a new franchise rookie record, to lead the Pirates to a 6-1 win over the New York Mets. He surpassed the previous mark of 23, set by Johnny Rizzo in 1936 and tied by Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner in 1948.
“The closer you get to it, the more you think about it,” Bay said. “You try not to think about it, but it was in the back of my mind. When I got back to the dugout, I kind of let out a sigh. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”
Bay, making a late charge for the NL rookie of the year award, is batting .294 with 75 RBIs despite missing the first month of the season following offseason shoulder surgery.
“He has my vote,” Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s been phenomenal, especially with the number of at-bats he’s done this in.”
The Cubs swept a three-game series against the Pirates at Wrigley Field last week.