It wouldn’t have entirely been surprising if the Milwaukee Brewers entered this brief two-game series Tuesday with the hated Chicago Cubs without a lot of enthusiasm.
In fact, it wouldn’t have been entirely surprising to think the NL Central-leading Cubs would come into the series ready to create real distance between themselves and the pesky Brewers, who have inhabited the top spot in the division for most of the season.
The Brewers came into Tuesday a woeful 4-6 in their last ten and 13-17 in their last 30 contests. The starting pitching has been suspect as of late and the bullpen notably underwhelming, having given up winnable recent contests to the San Diego Padres and insurgent Atlanta Braves. Conversely, the Cubs have seemingly surged after a early-season swoon marked by underwhelming play, winning 17 of their last 30 and taking care of business both at home and on the road.
Further, the Cubs have had the Brewers on the ropes, in the day, with Jose Quintana toeing the rubber. Quintana entered Tuesday having won two of three decisions against the Crew, along with posting a sparkling 0.95 ERA and 0.73 WHIP — the team as a whole going 8-3 in the season series. All but the most faithful Milwaukee fans had a fair excuse for their lack of optimism.
The #Brewers have two objectives in this series.
1) win today.
2) win tomorrow. #Thisismycrew
— Brent Sirvio (@BSirvioBtB) August 14, 2018
The Brewers themselves, however, showed their mettle, defied the odds and took it to the Cubs, and Tuesday’s 7-0 victory couldn’t have been more sweet, or more meaningful.
The Brewers are now two games behind Chicago rather than four, and played pristine baseball in every facet. On the other hand, the Cubs sputtered and looked more reptilian than bear-like, whining and barking at the umpires to the point that both manager Joe Maddon and utility man par excellence Ben Zobrist were given the boot.
Wrigley was mostly muted as the Brewers went right to work against Quintana.
Lorenzo Cain homered on the second pitch of the game. Ryan Braun homered twice, using the Wrigley jeers as fuel. Much-maligned backup catcher Eric Kratz broke out with a homer and a double. Despite walking only once and striking out 12 times, the Brewers pounded 11 hits. Jhoulys Chacin turned in another stellar outing and another effort worthy of consideration for his best pitching performance of the year: 7 IP, 10 K, 3 H, 2 BB and an 82 game score.
Beleaguered relievers Corey Knebel and Dan Jennings turned in clean innings, with Knebel’s performance being remarkable in mowing down Ian Happ, Anthony Rizzo and
MVP candidate Javier Baez, getting the first and final outs with decisive third strikes.
The game was a George Webb burger run blowout by the third inning, but these are the Cubs: the hated, loathsome Cubs. These Cubs came back against the Nationals Sunday and enjoy a healthy home record. A decisive, categorical beatdown was exactly what the Brewers needed to deliver.
What’s more, with Braun beginning to get hard-hit balls to fall, a dangerous-on-paper lineup becomes more potent. Christian Yelich is struggling, but Cain and Jesus Aguilar picked up the slack Tuesday. Aguilar, with a strong homestretch, is within striking distance of being the third Brewer to complete a season with an OPS over 1.000 (Prince Fielder did it twice, last in 2009, and Paul Molitor did it in 1987.)
There were a lot of reasons for Brewers fans to worry about what happened in the afternoon matinee. The Brewers showed them–and the rest of the Majors–they’re not about to fade and not going to go away, at least not without fighting like hell to stay alive.
This was done in the day, on the road, against their chief nemesis. The Brewers’ slash at Wrigley in 2018: .120/.180/.154. The Brewers have gone full Victor Santos in day games. The Brewers had no business winning. Now they’re are back in business and, with a sweep of this two-game set, can set their sights on a favorable remaining schedule. The Cubs have a tougher row to hoe, having started a stretch playing 29 games in 30 days and then an 11-game road trip in four different cities, including Milwaukee.
Sure, it’s just a win. But this win is more than a tally in a column; it’s a sign of life for a team and a fanbase desperately needing one.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.