The Chicago Cubs lost again, and this one was particularly painful.
Slugger Kris Bryant exited with a bruised left wrist, Mike Montgomery got hit hard over four-plus innings and the Cubs stumbled to a 6-0 defeat against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
For the second time in as many nights, the Cubs missed a chance to clinch a franchise-record fourth straight trip to the postseason. And their lead in the NL Central over Milwaukee shrunk to a half-game, with the Brewers beating St. Louis 12-4.
Chicago needed a win plus a loss by Colorado to Philadelphia to secure a playoff spot and extend a run that includes a drought-ending World Series championship in 2016. But the Cubs lost for the fourth time in sixth games while the Rockies won 10-3 to move a half-game ahead of St. Louis for the second wild-card.
Bryant got struck by a pitch from Chris Archer (3-3) in the fourth inning and was replaced at third base in the sixth by Ian Happ, who had pinch hit in the fifth. Manager Joe Maddon expects the 2016 National League MVP to miss at least one game, though X-rays showed no fractures.
"It was sore. I knew it was going to bother him. He was hit pretty good," Maddon said.
The last thing the Cubs need is to be without Bryant even if it's only a game or two. He's still trying to round into form after being on the disabled list from July 26 to Sept. 1 with left shoulder inflammation. He missed time earlier in the season with the same issue, and if the Cubs are going to advance in the playoffs, they obviously need him.
Montgomery (5-6) gave up five runs and seven hits, and the Cubs got shut out for the 11th time this season.
"Every game matters from this point on," he said. "Eventually, our goal is the playoffs. I think our guys are equipped for that. Mentally, this kind of gives us a chance to really come together as a group."
Archer struck out nine and walked two while pitching four-hit ball over six innings . He has won his past two starts and has a 2.70 ERA in five outings in September.
"Everything started to shift when I stopped shaking (catcher Francisco Cervelli)," he said. "It's him knowing the hitters, knowing the league, and it allows me not to think too much, go with what he puts down. I've been pitching much more like myself."
Rookie Pablo Reyes homered for the second straight game, a three-run drive in the second. Cervelli drove in two runs, and Pittsburgh won for the eighth time in 10 games.
The Cubs managed just five hits and went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position while stranding seven runners.
Chicago got shut down this time after managing just one run — all on homers — in each of their previous five meetings with the Pirates. That was a first for Major League Baseball, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I think that what this club has done a really good job of is to kind of wash ... off a poor performance, which is unfortunately what we've had these past two nights," said Daniel Murphy, acquired from Washington on Aug. 21.
Pirates: CF Starling Marte (left calf) was back in the lineup after sitting out Monday's game.
Cubs: Maddon said RHP Pedro Strop (strained left hamstring) is "trending in the right direction," though he wasn't sure what the next step would be after the reliever played catch on Monday. "He keeps telling me how great he feels," Maddon said. Strop has been sidelined since Sept. 13, when he was hurt running to first on a double-play grounder at Washington.
Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (9-9, 4.01 ERA) has allowed two runs in 16 1/3 innings over his past three starts
Cubs: LHP José Quintana (13-11, 4.11) tries to shake off a loss to the Chicago White Sox. He got tagged for five runs in five innings by his former team after giving up two runs or less in six straight starts.