3 things to watch for during Chicago Cubs’ final 10 games, including Patrick Wisdom’s home run quest and Willson’ Contreras’ potential return

Playing in close games has been a staple for the Chicago Cubs this season.

They entered Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates having won each of their last four games by one run. It was the first time the Cubs won four straight road games by one run since June 17-21, 1989, according to team historian Ed Hartig.

Overall, the Cubs’ 85 games decided by two runs or less are the most in Major League Baseball ahead of the Pirates (83). The Cubs own a 39-46 record (.459) in those games. They also have played 50 one-run games, third-most in the majors.

“We’ve had some opportunities lately that the other team has given us some gifts to help us out a little bit,” manager David Ross said Saturday. “That’s something that we focus on to try to get a little bit better, but I wouldn’t say anything stood out (during this stretch). I think these guys are playing hard to the end and they’re doing some little things to help themselves out.”

With 10 games remaining after their 6-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday — one in Pittsburgh, three versus the Philadelphia Phillies and six straight against the Cincinnati Reds — the Cubs need to go at least 7-3 to avoid a 90-loss season.

Saturday might have served as Wade Miley’s final outing with the Cubs this year. Miley exited in the fifth inning with left oblique tightness.

He felt the backside of his left oblique start to grab when he turned to make throw to second base in the fifth inning. The errant throw resulted in an error with nobody out to put runners on second and third, leading to the Pirates’ five-run inning after Adbert Alzolay replaced Miley.

He has started only eight games for the Cubs because of three stints on the IL: left elbow inflammation and twice due to a strained left shoulder. Miley, a free agent after the season, has pitched well when healthy, posting a 3.34 ERA in 35 innings.

“I mean, it’s been a frustrating year, no doubt,” Miley said. “But it’s also been a big learning experience for myself and obviously a lot of young players getting to come up and handling some failure and having some success.”

As a team, the Cubs haven’t had much to play for in a while, but there remain a few individual performances worth keeping an eye on during the final 1½ weeks.

1. Patrick Wisdom’s quest for a 25-homer season

A left finger injury has hampered Patrick Wisdom since late August, affecting his ability to get in a rhythm after costing him 14 games on the injured list.

But after hitting a home run in two of his last three games heading into Saturday, Wisdom is trying to finish strong. He is one away from 25 homers this season, coming off hitting a franchise rookie record 28 in 2021.

If Wisdom connects for one more homer, he would become the fourth Cubs third baseman to record multiple 25-homer seasons, joining Ron Santo (eight times), Aramis Ramírez (seven) and Kris Bryant (four). He nearly went deep Saturday. PNC Park kept in his 374-foot flyout to left field in the sixth inning, which would be a home run in 28 of 30 ballparks.

“Swinging at good pitches, controlling my swing — I take a lot of swings that are probably max effort up there sometimes, so I tell myself to tailor it back a little bit and not swing so hard,” Wisdom said Friday after he homered. “And so those are the good ones, and the bad ones are I’m swinging too hard. I don’t know if it’s making up for my finger feeling iffy.”

2. Willson Contreras and Nico Hoerner eye a return to game action

The schedule is starting to work against the catcher and shortstop.

Both players have remained hopeful of returning before the season ends from their respective injuries. Hoerner (right triceps strain) made on-field throws before Saturday’s game for the second time this series while Contreras (left ankle sprain) again took batting practice Saturday after vigorously testing his ankle on the bases Friday, including turns that had not felt great his previous attempt.

For Contreras, the Cubs’ upcoming six-game homestand represents potentially his last time playing in front of a home crowd at Wrigley Field. While he already endured the emotions and goodbyes during the final home games leading up to the trade deadline, this likely will feel more final as Contreras, an impending free agent, heads in to the offseason. A return at some point in the next week would provide one more opportunity for the World Series champion to cherish cheers from Cubs fans.

Hoerner has nothing to prove in returning before the end of the season besides getting more at-bats and experience. His all-around play has made him the Cubs’ most consistent player this year, especially when factoring in his value with his elite defense at shortstop. He has proved to be worth building around.

3. Pitchers galore

The Cubs set a big-league record last season when they used 69 players, and they are on the verge of setting a new mark on the pitching side.

Through Friday’s game, the Cubs have utilized 42 pitchers, including three position players. That ties the most ever in a single season by any major-league team, matching the 2019 Mariners, 2021 Orioles and 2021 Mets.

Had Monday’s 10-3 loss to the Miami Marlins gotten a little more out of hand, Ross would have turned to a pitcher and considered using first baseman Alfonso Rivas if the situation arose. Rivas appeared in 28 games during his first two seasons at the University of Arizona, posting a 9.20 ERA in 29⅓ innings. He could be the guy if the Cubs are part of a blowout game in these last 10 games.

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