3 reasons Cubs fans should be worried about playoff chances

3 reasons Cubs fans should be worried about playoff chances originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Cubs still have a 2.5 game lead in the wild card race over a trio of teams in the National League, but they’ve missed some chances in recent days to grow that lead out and ease some of the pressure heading down the stretch.

That included three losses in four games to the Arizona Diamondbacks, but it also included losing two-of-three to the lowly Colorado Rockies in Denver.

While the Cubs still very much control their own destiny, and there are reasons for optimism (which you can find here), there could be some factors to keep an eye on as the season winds down.

Could inexperienced pitchers tax bullpen?

The Cubs’ rotation is missing three players that were part of the Opening Day mix, and while they’ve gotten some good production of late, there are some questions that will need to be addressed.

Javier Assad has been strong since joining the rotation, but he’s given up seven earned runs in 8.2 innings, and he’s seen his walk rate go up as his control has started to get shaky at times down the stretch.

Jordan Wicks has been great too, with five earned runs allowed in four starts, but will the cauldron of the playoff hunt cause him to try to be overly-precise with his pitches?

Of course, lest we forget the struggles of Jameson Taillon, his penchant for leaving games early has caused more stress on the bullpen tool. He’s given up at least four runs in six of his last seven outings, and that has to have a negative impact on the team’s defense too.

Offensive issues a growing concern

The Cubs have scored 21 runs in their last seven games, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg with their recent struggles. They scored just six runs in an early-September series against the Brewers. They scored nine runs in their first three games against Cincinnati before a merciful explosion of offense in the final game.

They also have seen Ian Happ’s productivity stall, as he’s batting .120 over the last week and has 15 strikeouts in the month of September. Nick Madrigal is also just 4-for-20 so far this month.

Finally, Jeimer Candelario’s injury has robbed the lineup of a key home run hitter, something they’ve sorely missed in recent games.

Injuries to bullpen exacerbate depth issues

Adbert Alzolay’s injury has shifted everyone around in the team’s bullpen, and players who are nearing, or exceeding, record-highs in innings pitched could soon feel the strain.

Mark Leiter Jr. has allowed at least one baserunner in his last six outings, so he’s throwing more pitches and is having to throw higher-pressure pitches to boot.

Julian Merryweather is WAY into career-high territory in innings pitched. He has been working clean lately for the most part, with one earned run allowed in his last 11 appearances, but he’s also been throwing more pitches, with seven strikeouts and two walks in his last three outings. Could catch up to him at some point.

The glimmer of hope for the Cubs is that they have Jose Cuas, who outside of one bad outing at Coors Field has been dynamic. They also have Michael Fulmer back, and he was pitching well before a forearm strain landed him on the injured list.

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