Cubs Squander Chances In 4th Straight Loss

CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- The Cubs' season is hanging by a thread.

They dropped their fourth straight game Friday afternoon, losing 2-1 to the NL Central-leading Cardinals at Wrigley Field. It dropped the Cubs to five games back in the division and kept them presently out of the playoff picture.

"You cannot think about the different outcomes or what is going to happen," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "You just must focus on tomorrow and try to win."

Called in for a spot start, 27-year-old right-hander Alec Mills kept the Cardinals off-balance with an array of off-speed pitches that ranged from 66 to 79 miles per hour. Mills mixed in an occasional fastball at 90 to throw off the timing of the opposing hitters.

Mills set the tone in the crucial game for the Cubs with 4 2/3 shutout innings. He allowed just two hits before exiting with one on and two outs in the fifth inning.

But the Cubs offense couldn't convert with its opportunities. Chicago left nine men on base and was just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"It's always nice throw well, but at this point, a win is all that matters," Mills said. "This is frustrating, but it happens. There is a different feel, but I don't think anyone has more intensity. It's the same all season -- you want to win every game, no matter what time of the year it is."

With eight regular-season games remaining, the Cubs are 1.5 games back of the Brewers for the second wild-card as of early Friday evening. Milwaukee was set to host Pittsburgh on Friday night.   

Cubs manager Joe Maddon operated Friday as if it was Game 7 of the World Series. He used his primary setup men from the left and the right sides in the fifth and sixth innings. Kyle Ryan got the last out in the fifth, while Steve Cishek was brought in with two on and no outs in the sixth. Matt Carpenter walked, and Yadier Molina then gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead with a two-run single up the middle.

"There was some really good pitching on both sides today," Maddon said. "It's hard to deny that. Look, we are missing some key elements. Riz got his three at-bats there, but we have to figure it out somehow. We need to get a quick night's sleep, come back and do it again."

The Cubs had a great opportunity to score and break the game open in the third inning but couldn't convert. Rizzo and Nick Castellanos hit back-to-back singles with one out. Kris Bryant then drove a base hit to left, but Rizzo was held at third base as he plays on a gimpy ankle.

Kyle Schwarber then grounded into an inning-end double play.

"I thought he might make a play on it," Rizzo said of Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna. "I had to freeze there for a second, but running around was OK."   

In the seventh inning, Bryant flew out to deep left on a hard-hit ball with the bases loaded and two outs.

"This is baseball, man," Castellanos said. "Anything can happen. I don't look for a reason why. I just come ready to play tomorrow."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.