Cubs clinch their 5th playoff berth in the last 6 seasons despite losing 3-2 to the Pirates on a walk-off homer

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The Chicago Cubs are headed back to the postseason after a one-year absence, despite a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Kevin Stallings’ walk-off home run in the ninth inning.

The Philadelphia Phillies’ doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Washington Nationals, combined with the Cincinnati Reds’ loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, clinched the fifth National League playoff berth in six seasons for the Cubs — and the first for rookie manager David Ross.

Jose Quintana’s return to the Cubs rotation Tuesday night at PNC Park was upstaged by what could be a pleasant problem as they assess their options for the 28-man playoff roster.

Adbert Alzolay, whose glimpses of brilliance have been offset by bouts of wildness and unpredictability, struck out a career-high seven batters in a four-inning relief stint.

Stallings homered off Andrew Chafin with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

The Cubs, playing without Kris Bryant because of lower right oblique tightness, have scored 12 runs in their last six games.

Pirates starter Stephen Brault limited them to two hits in seven innings, and they appeared destined for their second shutout in three games until Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run home run off Sam Howard with two out in the eighth.

Designated hitter Jose Martinez, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline, went 0-for-3 and is hitless in 20 at-bats since joining the Cubs.

The last position player to start his Cubs career 0-for-20 was Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg in 1982.

From a long-range standpoint, Alzolay’s performance provided the Cubs with plenty to ponder. The most noticeable improvement was the effectiveness of his slider, which he used to earn many of his strikeouts.

Alzolay didn’t pitch four innings in either of his two starts because of high pitch counts. But he threw 41 of 63 pitches for strikes Tuesday.

Quintana, pitching for the first time since Aug. 30 because of left lat inflammation, threw two innings and 34 pitches. He was one out from a scoreless outing, but Gregory Polanco singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a double by Erik Gonzalez.

More important to the Cubs was that Quintana threw without any signs of discomfort. His fastball topped out at 93 mph and he snapped off a few big-breaking curves.

The Cubs seem committed to using Jon Lester as their third starter in the best-of-three wild-card round, but they would welcome pitching depth should they advance to a best-of-five NL Division Series.


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