MILWAUKEE With two days left in the regular season, the Cubs appear on track for a showdown against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
And with the Cubs playing Milwaukee in the final two games Saturday and Sunday, they could have a big say in which team they face.
Before Friday night's 5-1 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park, manager Lou Piniella was asked which team he would like to see the Cubs play.
"No preference," he replied. "Regardless, whoever gets in, for us to get to what we want to accomplish, we're going to have to beat them in the first or second round, so it doesn't really matter to us.
"We have to be ready to play, whomever it is. All we can do is come in here and do the best we can. There's a fine balance between winning baseball games and resting your team and doing what's best for your team. It's not easy. The preference would be to play somebody that was eliminated, and we could do exactly what we wanted to. That would be the easiest way. Unfortunately, that's not the case."
With the victory, Milwaukee took a one-game lead over the Mets in the wild-card playoff race, while New York fell two games behind Philadelphia in the NL East. If it stays like this, the Cubs will start the playoffs Wednesday against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs looked lethargic at times Friday, though Ryan Dempster pitched five strong innings.
Corey Hart's bloop RBI single off Jeff Samardzija snapped a 1-1 tie in the sixth and Rickie Weeks cranked a three-run home run off Chad Gaudin in the seventh to cap a rally that began when pitcher Seth McClung reached on Koyie Hill's catcher's interference.
Piniella used most of his regulars Friday against Milwaukee right-hander Jeff Suppan, after sitting Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in Thursday's game on a rainy night at Shea Stadium. But the night off didn't help any of his three sluggers, who combined to go 1-for-12 on the night.
Catcher Geovany Soto finally got back into the lineup, but lasted only five innings before aggravating his sore left hand and being removed in the middle of a sixth inning at-bat.
Jim Edmonds' home run off Suppan in the second inning gave the Cubs an early lead, but the Brewers came back to tie it in the bottom of the inning on Jason Kendall's RBI double to left. Dempster allowed only one more hit through the fifth. Piniella pulled Dempster after five so he can rest his arm for his start in the first playoff game.
The Cubs stranded seven runners through the first five innings, failing to come up with the big hit or making questionable base-running decisions, as Micah Hoffpauir did in the fifth when he tried to advance to second on his single to right when Mike Fontenot held at third on a throw to the plate.
Milwaukee took a 2-1 lead in the sixth on Ray Durham's ground-rule double off Sean Marshall and Hart's run-scoring single, before Weeks put the game out of reach his seventh-inning shot.