MILWAUKEE — When this season began, few believed the Cubs would make any serious noise.
And for more than three months the did little to alter that narrative.
But then came an eight-game winning streak in late July, 18 victories in August and a 5-2 mark to start September.
Not only was Wrigley Field was roaring, but so were opposing ballparks filled with delirious fans who figured the North Siders were well on their way to the postseason.
But then the Cubs dropped three of four at home to Arizona and almost nothing went right after that.
Their wild-card lead shrunk with each loss and finally evaporated for good during a three-game series sweep at Atlanta.
While the Cubs did explode for 6 first-inning runs en route to a 10-6 victory over the Brewers at America Family Field on Saturday, they were officially eliminated from playoff contention when Miami defeated Pittsburgh 7-3.
“You earn your right to go to the postseason,” said Cubs manager David Ross. “We have not played postseason-caliber baseball … as of late. That’s just a fact.
“To get into the big dance, you’ve got to play well and play well when it matters. We haven’t.”
The biggest reasons for the Cubs’ demise boils down to what is essentially Baseball 101: Fielding miscues, poor baserunning and lack of clutch hitting. A gassed, ineffective bullpen was a killer as well.
The blame belongs on most of the team’s biggest names as:
• Cody Bellinger was 7-for-29 with no home runs and 3 RBIs in the last eight games.
• Dansby Swanson was 6-for-37 with 5 walks, 1 home run and 4 RBIs in his last 10.
• Nico Hoerner, who sat out Saturday, was 3-for-19 in his last five.
• Mark Leiter Jr., who had a tremendous season overall, nonetheless had a 9.95 ERA in his last nine appearances. Opponents hit .407 and got on base 51.5% of the time.
• Drew Smyly’s ineffectiveness as a starter forced him to the bullpen and put more pressure on young pitchers like Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks.
• Even Justin Steele, who will be a Cy Young finalist, limped to the finish line by allowing 15 earned runs in his last 3 starts (14.1 innings).
Asked if he was surprised about this tailspin, Ross said yes.
But the fourth-year manager also believes the Cubs are trending in the right direction and can do what the Orioles did over the past year. After just missing the playoffs at 83-79 last season, Baltimore claimed the NL East with a 100-win campaign.
“I would put this team in that category,” Ross said. “We’re much better than we were last year and we put our position to make the playoffs.”
Saturday’s game was bizarre as the Cubs jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning on the strength of home runs by Christopher Morel (his 26th), Yan Gomes (grand slam) and Patrick Wisdom (his 23rd).
Milwaukee stormed back against Wicks, though, and tied it with 3 runs in the first and 3 more in the second.
The Cubs made it 8-6 in the fourth on an RBI single by Ian Happ and an RBI double by Bellinger. Alexander Canario, appearing in just his fifth game, went 3-for-5 with a triple and an RBI.
Hayden Wesneski (3-5), Javier Assad and Jameson Taillon shut the Brewers down for the final seven innings. Taillon, making the first relief appearance of his career, allowed 3 hits and walked one in 4 innings. He was credited with the save.