[Editor’s Note: Since the writing of this article, the error on Baez in the fourth inning was changed to a hit for Travis Shaw.]
With 25 games left on the schedule in 2018, the Chicago Cubs entered play on Tuesday with a four-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. That lead tightened from five games on Monday following a walk-off win by the Brewers.
In that 4-3 loss, the Cubs managed just three at-bats with runners in scoring position, going 1-for-3 in those situations on the evening. That one hit came in the top of the eighth inning when Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead with his 24th home run of the season, a shot that came with Ian Happ standing on second base.
Since the All-Star break, Rizzo has been a completely different player. Prior to the closure of the “first half” of the season, the lefty slugger was hitting just .246 with a .748 OPS. Despite those lackluster numbers, Rizzo finished the month of July with a monthly batting line of .293/.394/.478. Those numbers put the veteran back on track for the season, raising his batting average to .260 for the year and his OPS to .794.
As it turns out, Rizzo’s July was just the beginning of a second half turn around that has put him solidly on pace to turn in another season of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. Rizzo’s teammate, Javier Baez, achieved those same numbers with a sixth inning home run on Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Rizzo’s bid to hit 30 home runs this season is alive and well due to his resurgent second half. Since the break, the Cubs slugger is tied for fourth in the league with 12 home runs, 11th with 29 RBI, 10th with a .290 ISO and fourth with his 190 wRC+.
The player most Cubs fans would call the captain of the North Sider’s has rode his .340/.430/.612/1.041 slash line in August to a .284/.379/.489 line for the season.
Rizzo’s incredible stretch of play has coincided with the Cubs offense taking off of late. Entering their match-up with the Brewers on Tuesday night, the Cubs were fresh off putting up seven and eight runs in back-to-back victories over the Phillies on Saturday and Sunday respectively. The latter of those games, their 8-1 win on Sunday, came with Aaron Nola on the mound. Nola, who entered play firmly in the conversation for the National League Cy Young award, allowed four earned runs over 5.2 innings, earning the loss, just his fourth of the season.
That Cubs victory added Nola to the growing list of dominant starting pitchers Chicago has defeated. After beating Mike Foltynewicz and the Atlanta Braves on August 30, the Cubs continued to prove they could knock off top-tier pitching following their defeat of the New York Mets, a game Jacob deGrom started.
Despite their success against some of the NL’s best starting pitchers in recent days, the Cubs failed to figure out Wade Miley on Tuesday evening. Miley has been solid this year for the Brewers, sporting a 2.18 ERA in 11 starts. However, the southpaw owns a 4.27 career ERA, including a 5.61 mark just one season ago.
Though numbers did not matter in his most recent outing on Tuesday. After the Cubs grabbed the early lead in the second inning with a David Bote double, Ben Zobrist sac-bunt and Willson Contreras RBI reach on an E6, Miley sat down the next 11 Cub batters before Albert Almora singled to lead-off the sixth.
Of those 11 straight retired, four came via the strikeout as the Cubs looked completely out of sorts against the veteran southpaw.
Responding to the Cubs run in the second inning, the Brewers plated a run of their own in the home half of the frame. Mike Montgomery, making his second start since coming off the DL, allowed a lead-off single to Ryan Braun before punching out Hernan Perez for the first out of the inning. A walk and hit-by-pitch loaded the bases before Montgomery logged another strikeout, this time for the second out of the frame. With the pitcher at the plate, Montgomery spiked a cutter resulting in a wild pitch and a tied game.
That wild pitch began an evening of sloppy play by the Cubs’ defense which likely cost them a shot at winning the affair.
With the game locked at one in the fourth inning, Perez singled to begin the Brewers half inning. Travis Shaw, the following batter, then lined a ball to the second base position, a spot manned on Tuesday by Baez. Baez, an elite defender on most days, booted the ball causing both runners to be safe.
Baez’s E4 (later changed to a hit) loomed large in the frame as what should have been a 4-6-3 double play resulted in a run for the Brewers and gave them a 2-1 lead following a stolen base and sac-fly. That error would not be the only one committed by the Cubs in the ball game. Two innings later, Shaw reached one again, this time on an E6 by Addison Russell to lead-off the inning.
A batter later, Erik Kratz popped out to Contreras for the first out of the inning. Instead of the bases being empty with two outs, the Brewers were able to capitalize on the mistake with back-to-back singles that scored Shaw, giving the home team a 4-1 lead. On the latter of those singles, Victor Caratini committed the Cubs third error of the game on a low throw from Russell. That error helped the Brewers score their fourth run of the game, something that may not have happened if Caratini had fielded the ball cleanly.
While the runner would have likely been safe even with a clean pick, instead of the run scoring, the bases would have been loaded for Lorenzo Cain. During that at-bat to Cain, the Cubs continued to shoot themselves in the foot, this time in the form of a passed ball by Contreras on a Dillon Maples‘ slider. Even though it does not go down as an error in the books, that play only worsened the level of sloppiness by the Cubs on Tuesday. Contreras’ passed ball gave the Brewers a 5-1 lead, an advantage that would grow to 6-1 after Maples forced in a run on a hit-by-pitch.
What was a tight 3-1 contest entering the sixth inning quickly spiraled into a five-run lead for the home team.
The Cubs starter on Tuesday night, Mike Montgomery was not around to see the sixth inning. Despite allowing just two hits in his outing, the southpaw worked too many deep counts, resulting in three walks and 78 pitches thrown. His final line looked like this: four innings, two hits, one earned run, three walks and five strikeouts (later changed to three hits and two earned runs following the scoring change). While his line wasn’t terrible, it was obvious Montgomery did not have his best command, leading to Joe Maddon‘s decision to pinch-hit for the lefty in the fifth.
As for Rizzo, the Cubs slugger was silent much of the night. A hit-by-pitch, G3 and F8 would be all Rizzo could muster before being pulled to begin the sixth. The reason for his early exit was a contusion that took place in the third inning when he fouled a ball off his foot.
Without their sloppy sixth inning, the Cubs would have stayed close to the Brewers, applying pressure to a bullpen that ranked 11th in ERA prior to play on Tuesday. Instead, the Cubs allowed the Brewers to cash-in on their lackluster defensive play and bullpen work late.
What was a strength of the Cubs entering play (fourth best ERA), the bullpen — along with the sloppy defensive play — allowed the Brewers to pull further ahead. Brandon Kintzler, Jorge De La Rosa, Brian Duensing and James Norwood were charged with eight earned runs (of nine total allowed) on the evening by the ‘pen, giving the home team their 11-1 win.
With the victory, the Brewers improve to 79-61 while the Cubs fall to 81-57 on the season. In addition, the Cubs lead in the National League Central now sits at three games.
Next Up For The Cubs
The Cubs will wrap-up their three-game set with the Brewers on Wednesday, September 5 at 7:10 p.m. at Miller Park. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be Jose Quintana (11-9, 4.21 ERA). After allowing five runs in his second and third start of August, the southpaw has been a much better pitcher. Over his last three starts spanning 16 innings, Quintana has given up just four earned runs on 13 hits while striking out 13 batters. That solid stretch has lowered the left-hander’s ERA from 4.46 on August 14 to 4.21 after his last outing.
Opposing Quintana on the mound Wednesday will be Jhoulys Chacin (14-5, 3.53 ERA). Chacin has been a solid option for the Brewers this season, posting a 2.64 ERA in July. This month, the right-hander owns a 3.79 ERA after logging 6.1 innings of one-run baseball in his last start on August 31 against the Washington Nationals.
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