There will be a lot on the line when the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs meet for a short but crucial two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
The Brewers (67-54), who trail the Cubs (68-49) by three games in the NL Central, can’t retake the division lead but a poor performance could relegate Milwaukee to the wild card race for the remainder of the season.
“What you get when you play a team head-to-head is more control,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said after Sunday’s 8-7 loss to the Braves in Atlanta. “You don’t have to rely on someone else to beat them. That’s what you get. That’s a good thing. You get a little more control.”
The Brewers haven’t had much success against the Cubs this season. Chicago has won eight of the first 11 meetings, largely due to dominant pitching performances. The Cubs have shut out Milwaukee five times, and their pitchers have a 1.37 ERA — including an 0.86 mark by their relievers.
Overall, Milwaukee is hitting .166 against Chicago with just 19 extra-base hits and 98 strikeouts in 371 plate appearances. The Brewers have been even worse with runners in scoring position, hitting .071 (4-for-56) with eight RBIs and 21 strikeouts.
“They’ve pitched well against us,” Counsell said.
No one more so than left-hander Jose Quintana, who is scheduled to start Tuesday for the Cubs. In four starts vs. the Brewers with the Cubs, he has given up just two runs in 19 innings, and he is 4-1 with a 0.92 ERA in seven career starts against Milwaukee.
“(Quintana) has commanded his fastball well against us, in and out,” Counsell said.
Despite the Brewers’ offensive struggles vs. the Cubs, most of the meetings have been close. The Brewers led 2-1 going into the ninth inning April 7 at Miller Park before Jacob Barnes allowed four runs in a 5-4 loss. And it was a 2-2 game when the Cubs scored five in the 11th inning for a 7-2 victory on June 11 in Milwaukee.
Credit the Brewers’ pitching staff for giving the offense a chance. Milwaukee’s pitchers have a 3.88 ERA and 1.155 WHIP against the Cubs this season with an average of 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings. The Brewers’ starting rotation has been especially good, posting a 2.27 ERA while holding Chicago’s lineup to a .207 batting average and a .602 OPS with 49 strikeouts and 23 walks in 63⅓ innings of work.
Milwaukee pitchers have shut out Chicago in each of the last two meetings, with Chase Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin allowing a combined five hits and five walks while striking out 13 in those games. Chacin will get the start for the Brewers today while Junior Guerra, who has a 1.89 ERA in 19 career innings against the Cubs, goes on Wednesday.
“They’ve been the team to beat the last three years, and it’s always good to beat them,” Chacin said after striking out seven over six scoreless innings in Milwaukee’s 1-0 victory June 13 at Miller Park.
Fortunately for the Brewers, Chicago hasn’t caught fire, either. The Cubs won 12 of 15 heading into the All-Star break but are 13-11 since, with a collective 4.97 ERA during that stretch. Chicago is still without third baseman Kris Bryant, closer Brandon Morrow and right-hander Yu Darvish due to injuries.
“It’s going to be another fight,” Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “To be able to see their guys (at the All-Star Game) and talk to them, they’re a bunch of good guys. We’re both excited for the second half, and we talked about it, how fun it’s going to be for both cities.”
After this series, the Brewers and Cubs will play six more times: Sept. 3-5 in Milwaukee and Sept. 10-12 in Chicago.
Broxton called up again
The Brewers have recalled outfielder Keon Broxton from Triple-A Colorado Springs, reinstated pitcher Taylor Williams (right elbow soreness) from the 10-day disabled list, and optioned relievers Jacob Barnes and Aaron Wilkerson to their top minor-league affiliate.
The slick-fielding Broxton has a .185 average with two homers and six RBIs in 25 games at the big-league level. He was hitting .254 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs at Colorado Springs.
The right handed-throwing Barnes and Wilkerson are the latest relievers to be shuttled back to the minors from a bullpen that has had some trouble recently holding on to late-inning leads.