The Cubs entered Monday night winners of five straight series, including an 11-3 record in their last 14 games. Momentum couldn’t be more on their side as they traveled to Milwaukee, armed with a 7-1 record against the first place Brewers (including five shutouts) this year.
The tension was palpable this evening, with a struggling Brewers squad (4-6 their last 10 games) clinging to first place by just half a game. Couple that with Brewers fans battling with the traveling Cubs contingent for stadium dominance, and a mid-June showdown suddenly felt like a late-September contest with playoff implications.
Jose Quintana‘s 26 innings scoreless streak against Milwaukee was snapped in the bottom of the third when journeyman catcher Erik Kratz led off with a solo home run. Jonathan Villar tacked on an additional solo shot in the fifth, but aside from that ‘Q’ was solid. Attacking righties inside with the fastball he netted several outs via the ground ball, including two double plays in the early going. All told, Jose’s stat line was: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 2 ER, 3 K.
Junior Guerra was even more impressive for the Brewers. While not flashy he surrendered just one run in six innings — a two-out RBI single off the bat of Albert Almora — scattering five hits in just 72 pitches. Attacking the zone with fastballs, he kept the Cubs lineup on edge, never surrendering hard contact with consistency, limiting free passes (two), and leaving the game in the hands of one of the best bullpens in baseball.
Ryan Braun provided Guerra with solid defense this evening, making a terrific sliding catch against an Anthony Rizzo blooper and, in the sixth, robbing Willson Contreras of a potential game-tying home run. While his defense has always been questionable (at best), Braun seems to bring his best against the Cubs, and it showed once again tonight.
The eighth inning elicited a drama to appropriately match the tension of the evening. After a quick seventh inning, Josh Hader (arguably the best reliever in 2018) walked pinch-hitting Ben Zobrist to lead off the inning. ‘Zo advanced to second in risky fashion, tagging up on an Almora drive to deep left center.
Then, the improbable happened again.
Heyward drove a 95 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate into right field, scoring ‘Zo from second and tying the game. To put this in perspective, lefties have hit an abysmal .057 against Hader this year, while Heyward has mustered a .158 average against lefties. Aside from the recent flair for the dramatic, J-Hey has turned his season around offensively, a revelation that will only further buttress this league-leading offense should it continue.
It took a few extra innings to claim the lead, but the Cubs didn’t disappoint. In the 11th Rizzo broke the tie with an upper deck moonshot off of Matt Albers, giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead. Several clutch at-bats later — including a two-run double by Heyward off another lefty! — and suddenly the Cubs claimed a dominating 7-2 lead.
The Cubs bullpen simply out-pitched the Brewers’ pen this evening. Justin Wilson avoided a leadoff double in the seventh by striking out the side, Pedro Strop made quick work of the Brewers in the eighth, and Randy Rosario continued his impressive debut with the Cubs by working perfect frames in both the ninth and tenth. Anthony Bass closed it out in his Cubs debut, netting the Cubs a hard fought 7-2 victory.
Tonight’s win epitomized the #Everybodyin mantra, with heroes both familiar and surprising providing clutch performances. This team suddenly feels like it has the confidence and camaraderie that it did in 2016. And goodness, it feels good.
Up next for the Cubs
The Brewers and Cubs will face off in game two of this pivotal series tomorrow night at 7:10 pm. The struggling Tyler Chatwood will take the mound for the Cubs. Chase Anderson, who enters tomorrow night carrying a 7.24 ERA in his last three starts, will toe the rubber for the Brewers.
The game will air on NBC Sports TV, and as always, on the radio at 670 The Score.
Follow Austin on Twitter:@TLS_Austin–Feature Photo Credit: Morry Gash/AP