The front runners in the NL Central squared off last weekend in Milwaukee. The Brewers had held down top spot for 60 straight days until the Cubs caught them last week, with the Baby Bears holding a 1½ game lead entering this series. The Northsiders were riding high with an 11-2 run since the All-Star break while Milwaukee had hit the skids with a 2-9 swoon.
Game 1 matched newly acquired Jose Quintana for the Cubs against Milwaukee southpaw Brent Suter. This was a pitchers’ duel with just 9 hits between the clubs. The Brewers tallied singleton runs in the second and fourth frames, both scoring on infield outs. Suter pitched an ultra-efficient 7 shutout innings on just 82 pitches, so it was a bit of a surprise to see setup man Anthony Swarzak take the mound for the 8th inning. Swarzak surrendered a one-out bomb to Javier Baez to cut the lead in half, setting the stage for a tension-packed 9th inning with Brewer closer Corey Knebel on the hill. Knebel walked Anthony Rizzo to start the frame, with Rizzo making it to third base with two outs and pinch-hitter Kyle Schwarber at bat. Alas, no heroics for the defending champs as Schwarber went down swinging. Final score: Brewers 2, Cubs 1
Jose Quintana took the loss for the visitors, the first by a Cub starter since the All-Star break; the same starters (minus Quintana) had posted a 1-8 record over 12 games heading into the break. Brent Suter is a rookie who will turn 28 later this month. Since moving to the rotation at the beginning of July, Suter has yet to allow more than two runs or two walks in any start, with a 1.50 ERA over that stretch. Suter is the Brewers’ 6th rookie pitcher in the last 6 years to record 5 such starts, after only 13 over the 43 prior seasons; the franchise record is 12 such games by Steve Woodard in 1998, the only double-digit total by a Brewer rookie.
Game 2 matched veteran Kyle Hendricks for Chicago against the Brewers’ Junior Guerra. Milwaukee got the early jump, plating a first inning run on Ryan Braun‘s RBI double. The Cubs threatened in the second and third frames, with a pair of walks in each, but Guerra wriggled off the hook, before getting the early hook himself, pulled for a pinch-hitter leading off the home third. The Cubs tied it on a Kris Bryant RBI single in the 7th, then held off Brewer threats in the 8th and 10th innings, setting the stage for Jason Heyward‘s one out blast in the 11th to even the series. Final score: Cubs 2, Brewers 1
This was the 20th searchable game, all in this century, with both teams allowing two runs or less but using at least 7 pitchers. Junior Guerra was Milwaukee’s opening day starter but was optioned to the minors after this game; walks were the issue with three or more in 11 of 13 starts, none longer than 6 innings. Mike Montgomery carded the win for Chicago; he is the only pitcher in the past 5 years with 25 starts and 25 games finished over his first 3 seasons. Quiz: which two HOF pitchers did the same and, like Montgomery, posted losing records over their first three seasons?
Game 3 would be a another tight game dominated by the pitchers. The Cubs started veteran John Lackey against youngster Zach Davies for the Brewers. The game was scoreless through 5 innings until, with the first two batters retired in the 6th inning, the Cubs ran off four straight hits to plate a pair. But, in the bottom of the frame, the Brewers leveled the match with a two run blast from outfielder Domingo Santana. With Davies having been roughed up a bit the previous inning and with a pitch count of 87, Brewer manager Craig Counsell might have considered going to his bullpen to start the 7th inning. But, with the bottom of the Cub order coming up, he decided to try to get another inning from Davies. Alas, it didn’t work out as Cub rookie Victor Caratini ended Davies’ day with a one out solo shot, the first blast of his career. Kris Bryant added an insurance bomb in the 8th to give Chicago the game and series. Final score: Cubs 4, Brewers 2
Domingo Santana, in his first season as an everyday player, is developing into a potent offensive force, currently sporting a .374 OBP to go with .484 SLG. Santana needs just four more homers to reach 22 for the season, a mark that would eclipse Sixto Lezcano (1977) for the Brewer franchise record for under-25 right-fielders. Zach Davies took the loss in this game but his 26-14 (.650) career mark is easily the best winning percentage of any under-25 Brewer in 40+ decisions over the first 3 seasons of a career, almost 100 points higher than Juan Nieves‘ .561 mark (32-25) in 1986-88.