After a loss to the Cardinals two days earlier ended their five-game winning streak, the Cubs resumed the winning against the Brewers by pounding out 13 hits.
The win improved the Cubs' record to 88-62, and they remained six games behind the first-place Cardinals. They were two games behind the Pirates for the first wild card, and led the Giants for the second wild card by 10½ games. Their magic number to clinch a playoff berth was reduced to four.
This one didn't start out well. Jason Hammel gave up hits to the first two Brewers batters he faced and then made a poor pickoff throw and so the Cubs trailed 1-0 after just 16 Hammel pitches. (Why the Cubs were so concerned with baserunner Logan Schafer, who isn't particularly fast and has one stolen base in 60 games this year, is another matter.) Hammel settled down to strike out the next two hitters, but Domingo Santana singled in a second Milwaukee run.
The Cubs then did what good, playoff-caliber teams do, and what I particularly remember the 1984 Cubs doing. That year, they gave up runs in the top of the first at home quite a few times. But you always had the feeling that it didn't matter, they'd get those runs back. And Monday night, the Cubs made two more errors -- and they wound up not mattering at all.
In this one, it didn't happen right away, but all three Cubs hitters in the first inning hit the ball hard. In the second, Brewers starter Wily Peralta lost command. He wound up issuing three walks, and Starlin Castro and Dexter Fowler hit RBI doubles to make it 3-2 Cubs. Fowler's double had to be reversed on video review:
You could see Fowler pointing at the dugout immediately after the call. He knew he was safe. It didn't result in any more runs, but the Cubs had the lead, and extended it to 4-2 in the next inning on a bases-loaded walk to Addison Russell.
Even after the Brewers tied the game on a two-run homer by Adam Lind in the fifth, there was the sense in the crowd, and perhaps with you too, that the Cubs would get those runs right back, and they did, on a sac fly RBI from Castro and a single by Miguel Montero.
The Cubs put the exclamation point on their 9-5 win over the Brewers in the seventh inning. Jorge Soler, whose duty since his return from an oblique injury has been limited (rightly so, I think), pinch-hit for Montero after Anthony Rizzo led off the inning with a single and Castro hit his second double of the game. Soler smashed a three-run homer, his ninth, to complete the Cubs' scoring. Since he came back from a rehab assignment, Soler is 2-for-5 in four games (one start) -- both homers. Oblique injuries are tricky and I think the Cubs are right to play Soler sparingly, but if he can hit like this in limited duty... that's a real bench weapon the Cubs would have in the postseason.
Also, it was nice to see Rizzo go 3-for-3. He had been in a bit of a slump on the last road trip, but now has a seven-game hitting streak in which he's hitting .500/.606/.750 (12-for-24 with three doubles, a home run, six walks and seven RBI).
Tommy Hunter gave up a leadoff homer to Khris Davis in the eighth to bring the Brewers within four runs, and that only continued the motivation of some inebriated patrons in the left-field bleachers who had been giving Davis grief all game. For Davis' part, he stood staring in bemusement at the bleacher antics, at one point throwing a practice baseball into the seats. It was promptly thrown back. Dumb, in my view, but fun was being had by all on a night that had the coolish touch of early autumn in the air.
One more play from this game deserves a video look:
Clayton Richard threw a wild pitch with a runner on first in the seventh. The ball caromed crazily off the bricks behind home plate in the general direction of third base, which led Scooter Gennett to try for third. Kris Bryant picked up the ball and both men dived for the base. The call on the field was "out," and the replay-review crew ruled "call stands." I think the Cubs might have caught a break here; Gennett might have been safe but there wasn't enough video evidence to overturn third-base umpire Dana DeMuth's call.
Regarding Hammel's somewhat mediocre performance, he's going to have to be better to start in the postseason, according to Joe Maddon:
Hammel lent pause by allowing four runs (three earned) in five innings Monday and throwing 104 pitches. He's tentatively in line to pitch the second game of the division series behind [Jon] Lester, with [Jake] Arrieta lined up to pitch the wild-card game. "It's very fluid," Maddon said of Hammel's spot. "Absolutely, it's fluid. There's a lot of discussion involved in that part of the rotation. I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's not." Maddon said he already had spoken to pitching coach Chris Bosio about ideas to improve Hammel's command. "He's not injured, and his stuff is good," Maddon said. "We've just got to get better location."
The Cubs have already adjusted the rotation through the Pirates series, skipping Dan Haren's turn and going with Lester, Hammel and Arrieta (in that order), so Hammel will get a chance to prove himself in a game against the Cubs' immediate rival for playoff position.
Bad joke of the recap: A Brewers rookie named David Goforth threw the eighth inning. The Brewers need a catcher with the last name of Multiply, so they can have a battery of... well, you know.
The house at Wrigley Field wasn't quite as full (34,373 announced) Monday night as it had been over the weekend, but once the Cubs started coming back from their early deficit the crowd was just as enthusiastic. A postseason feel is starting to happen at the ballpark, and this is something the Cubs absolutely need once home playoff games begin. Some of you might remember the peculiar, dead atmosphere at Game 1 of the Division Series against the Dodgers in 2008. When (note, I said "when," not "if") the Cubs host postseason games this year, having the place rocking will be a big boost to this young team.
So, the Cubs took care of business Monday night. Unfortunately, so did both of the other teams in the N.L. Central race; the Cardinals came from behind and beat the Reds, and the Pirates scored early and often in Denver and beat the Rockies. So the standings remain as they were after Sunday's contests. The Cubs trail the Pirates by two games and the Cardinals by six, now with 12 remaining instead of 13.
With Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson ruled out for the year, Milwaukee will go with a "bullpen day" Tuesday. Starting will be Tyler Cravy, who has made six starts this year but last started over a month ago, August 13 against the Cubs, who hit him hard. More of that, please.
He'll be facing Jake Arrieta, who will once again try for his 20th win of the season, and to help reduce the Cubs' magic number for clinching a playoff spot.