MILWAUKEE -- Dexter Fowler almost did it.
Fowler, who led off the game with a home run -- the Cubs' first runs scored before the ninth inning since Saturday -- lofted a fly ball to deep right field with two men on base and one out in the ninth inning, the inning that had created quite a bit of run-scoring and magic for the Cubs this week.
Unfortunately, it wound up just a few feet short, and Ramon Flores caught it on the warning track [VIDEO]. Jason Heyward then struck out on a 3-2 pitch to end it, and the Cubs lost 5-3 to the Brewers in front of the largest crowd of the series, 38,781, around half of whom were Cubs fans, myself included.
Fowler's homer was followed by another Cubs run in the second when Jorge Soler doubled down the line, a nice piece of hitting, and one out later Miguel Montero singled him in.
Jason Hammel gave one of the runs back in the second thanks to a throwing error by Montero that didn't have to happen. Kirk Nieuwenhuis had taken off from first as Hammel was throwing ball four to Hernan Perez. Unfortunately, Montero's throw went through and Kirk N. took third, where Hammel promptly wild-pitched him home. If not for those two events, the Brewers probably don't score in that inning, and we might be talking about a victory now.
Chris Carter, who's a pretty good power hitter, gave the Brewers another run in the fourth on a leadoff homer, and then Kirk N. came up to bat with a runner on and one out in the sixth and homered. That proved the difference in the game, the second time in his career that Kirk N. (I really hate trying to type that name!) has hit a homer that wound up as a game-winner.
The Cubs put across a run in the seventh to pull to within a run at 4-3. Montero tripled to deep center field. It was his first triple in four years and just the seventh of his career. He was wild-pitched home by Junior Guerra, who had the Cubs tied in knots most of the afternoon. He struck out 11 -- the first time in 41 games this year that any Brewers pitcher had gotten to double digits in strikeouts.
Here's a question for you: In the eighth, Heyward, who was 0-for-3 at the time and looked bad doing it, led off. Reliever Michael Blazek ran the count to 1-2, at which time the Brewers infield shifted, leaving the left side totally open.
Would you have bunted there? I would. Heyward is scuffling and the Cubs needed baserunners, and I'm reasonably certain Heyward could have laid down a bunt for a hit. He wound up flying out to left. Why not try a bunt against the shift? Failing couldn't have been a worse outcome than what actually happened on that at-bat. I'd be interested in your take.
Clayton Richard, who was brought in to get the last out of the seventh, allowed a leadoff single to Scooter Gennett in the eighth and then Trevor Cahill was summoned. He quickly got two outs; Gennett advanced to second on the second out, a fly to left. Then Cahill gave up another hit to Perez that scored an insurance run for the Brewers.
The Cubs did have their chances in the ninth, with the first two men drawing walks off Tyler Thornburg, closing because regular Milwaukee closer Jeremy Jeffress had thrown four of the last five days. But Thornburg struck out Javier Baez, got Fowler to loft that ball that got Cubs fans excited and then slumped in their seats, and struck out Heyward. It was the first save of Thornburg's career.
I'm going to give the Brewers credit here. They're in rebuild mode, but they do have some pretty good hitters -- even without Ryan Braun, who sat the last two games with back trouble, and they obviously got some good advance scouting on how to handle Cubs hitters. The Cubs are going to have to make adjustments to continue on the roll they were on before this week, because at least one team has figured them out. Cubs hitters were completely off-balance in this one, striking out 15 times and going 1-for-7 with RISP. In the series they were 1-for-24 with RISP and left 24 men on base. At least they had the baserunners, but they've got to start bringing them home.
Cubs walk watch: six in this game, exactly zero of whom scored. That's 197 walks in 39 games, or 5.05 per game. Pace: 818.
Regarding my trip to Milwaukee... I'm not sure I'm going to try weekday afternoon games there anymore, because traffic back to Chicago was horrific. Downtown Milwaukee traffic was slow, and once I got off the I-94 spur onto the Edens... well, don't ask. It took more than two and a half hours to get home. Perhaps weekend day games are a better choice.
I'll give the last word on this one to Joe Maddon:
#Cubs Maddon: "You're not going to win them all, despite feeling like you can. You're not going to win them all."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 19, 2016
He's right, of course. Pending the result of the Pirates/Braves game in Pittsburgh Thursday evening, the Cubs will lead the N.L. Central by at least 6½ games and possibly 7½ going into the weekend series against the Giants in San Francisco. It's odd that all three series losses this season have come against teams who have mediocre (Rockies) or losing (Padres, Brewers) records.
The Giants, currently riding a seven-game winning streak going into their action Thursday night against the Padres, will be a good test. It's a battle of the Jakes Friday night: Arrieta vs. Peavy, "Late Night with the Cubs" at 9:15 p.m. CT.