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2017 Cubs victories revisited, September 21: Cubs 5, Brewers 3

The Cubs won the first of a key four-game set in Milwaukee.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Entering this series with the Brewers 3½ games ahead, the Cubs won to improve to 85-66 and lead by 4½ games. Their magic number to clinch the N.L. Central dropped to six.


This recap was going to be all about Joe Maddon and what I felt were some questionable lineup-change and bullpen decisions, but thanks to Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, all is happiness and light around here this morning.

Baez’s two-out, two-strike RBI single in the ninth and Bryant’s two-run 10th-inning homer led the Cubs to a come-from-behind 5-3 win over the Brewers, one of the more entertaining games of the season, and one the Cubs are certainly glad went into the “W” column.

As has often been the case in this crazy season, there’s a lot to unpack from this nearly four-hour game, so let’s rewind to the beginning.

Jake Arrieta, in his first start in 17 days, looked strong. His velocity and location were good and he showed no signs of the hamstring injury that made him miss two and a half weeks.

Kyle Schwarber put the Cubs ahead in the second inning:

Here’s how far that ball went:

That’s a long, long way to the opposite field, and it was Kyle’s 29th long ball of the season. The Cubs scored a second run in the third inning. With two runners on base, Anthony Rizzo singled, scoring Jon Jay. Bryant was called safe at third, but the Brewers challenged and that safe call was overturned [VIDEO].

So the Cubs took a 2-0 lead into the fourth. Domingo Santana homered off Arrieta in that inning to make it 2-1, and then Jake’s hamstring had its biggest test in the fifth. With one out and runners on first and second, Neil Walker hit a ground ball to Rizzo, who threw to Addison Russell for a force play. Arrieta hustled over to first to take the relay. Walker was called safe; again, the review crew was summoned [VIDEO].

The double play ended the inning.

It also ended Jake’s night. Now, maybe Jake had said something about how he was done, or maybe the Cubs were just being cautious with him — they had said pregame that they’d limit him to 75-80 pitches. He had thrown 71 after five innings.

It’s certainly defensible to remove him; there’s also a decent argument that he could have gone another inning. What this meant, though, was that the Cubs would have to get four innings out of a bullpen that doesn’t have too many reliable relievers and some of those guys have been overworked.

Carl Edwards Jr. threw a 1-2-3 sixth. Okay, that’s good, although Schwarber was double-switched out of the game, a bit early for that, I thought.

Then Brian Duensing entered to throw the seventh. This is where I thought Joe got a little too cute with the platoon advantage. Duensing allowed a leadoff single, then got Manny Pina to hit into a double play, but then walked Keon Broxton.

The Brewers sent Jesus Aguilar up to pinch-hit for starter Zach Davies. Duensing has pretty good reverse splits this year — he could have faced Aguilar. But Joe called on Pedro Strop.

Strop’s generally been effective this season, but Thursday night he was all over the place. He threw only nine strikes in 21 pitches. He issued a walk and an RBI single to Eric Sogard that tied the game, then walked the bases loaded before getting Ryan Braun to pop up to end the inning.

The Cubs failed to score in the eighth despite getting the first two runners on base via walk. Willson Contreras hit into a double play to end the inning.

Justin Wilson was the next guy out of the pen. Here’s where taking Jake out after five really hurt. Wilson hasn’t been effective most of the time since he was acquired and he had thrown 28 pitches the night before!

After Wilson struck out Travis Shaw, Santana doubled and Eric Thames singled and the Brewers had a 3-2 lead. Pina then singled and Joe came to get him. That’s 21 pitches thrown by Wilson to only four hitters, three of whom reached base. Wilson’s six appearances this month: 3⅓ innings, seven hits, seven walks, 4.200 [!] WHIP, 16.20 ERA. Overall as a Cub: 19 appearances, 14⅓ innings, 17 hits, 16 walks, 2.302 WHIP, 6.28 ERA. That’s 10 walks per nine innings. Yikes.

Wilson has talent. Wilson has good velocity. Wilson seems to have no idea where or why he’s throwing pitches. He simply cannot be trusted anymore in important games. Fix him in spring training, not now.

Justin Grimm, another reliever who has been less than effective this year, entered and limited the damage by striking out Broxton and Jonathan Villar.

So it’s 3-2 Brewers heading to the ninth, and the Brewers also have had an overextended bullpen. Thus their usual closer Corey Knebel, who had thrown in three consecutive games, was not available and so Jeremy Jeffress entered to try to nail it down for Milwaukee.

Ian Happ, leading off the inning:

Oh, man, that was close. Happ was ruled safe on the field, and the review crew ruled “call stands.” I’ve watched this video numerous times and I can’t tell either. But Happ was on base representing the tying run.

Russell struck out and Alex Avila, who had entered to replace Contreras after Willson fouled a ball off his knee (hope he’s OK!), grounded to second. Happ advanced to second on that out, which turned out to be really, really important when Javy reached down to hit what didn’t look like a very good pitch on the ground:

You know what that reminded me of? The hit Javy got in Game 4 against the Giants in the division series last year, the one that gave the Cubs the lead in their incredible four-run ninth. You can see the emotion in Javy after he reaches first base and Happ scores the tying run. Think these Cubs don’t have that in them? It showed, big time, Thursday night.

Grimm got the first out of the ninth, but then Walker singled. Joe’s been asking Wade Davis to do multi-inning work lately in preparation for possibly doing this in the postseason, and Davis entered with the possibility he’d also throw the 10th, if he could hold the Brewers down in the ninth. That he did, striking out Santana and inducing a comebacker from Orlando Arcia.

On they went to extras. Jay led off the inning with a long drive to the opposite field that was nearly hauled in by Broxton. Except, then, it wasn’t:

Bryant was next. As he often does, he went down in the count, then ran it full. And then:

Watch that video all the way to the end and look at Javy greeting Kris in the dugout. You think these guys don’t feel it?

Rizzo nearly hit another homer, but it went off the top of the wall just below the yellow line (confirmed by the review crew [VIDEO]), so he had to settle for a triple. Rizzo nearly scored on a ground-ball contact play [VIDEO].

Rizzo had been called safe, but the review crew called him out. Leonys Martin, who had walked after Rizzo’s triple, was ruled out for running out of the baseline for a weird double play.

Then Davis came out for the bottom of the 10th.

One thing I like best about watching Davis is that absolutely nothing seems to bother him. He is laser-focused on the task at hand. This time, he rose to the occasion by striking out the side:

The 29 pitches Davis threw in this one were the most he’d thrown in a game since early August, and he’s now thrown in multiple innings twice this month. Expect to see this possibility in the postseason. Also, Davis’ last seven appearances: eight innings, two hits, three walks (0.625 WHIP), no runs allowed, 13 strikeouts.

Which, after this big win, came a bit closer to reality. The Cubs’ magic number over both the Brewers and Cardinals dropped to six. The Cubs can eliminate the Brewers by winning the final three games of this series (unlikely, I know) — but that raises the possibility that the Cardinals won’t be eliminated by then. They’d have to be swept by the Pirates in order for the Cubs to clinch as early as Sunday. That’s also unlikely, as since the Bucs took the first two games from the Cubs earlier this month at PNC Park, they have lost 11 of 13.

Still, it appears we could be looking at a division clincher in St. Louis early next week and wouldn’t that be sweet? The Cubs clinched the N.L. Central title against the Cardinals in 2008, but that one was at Wrigley Field. Doing it on your biggest rival’s home field? Now that would be fun.

Man, that game had just about everything. The Cubs got both really good and really bad pitching. There was timely hitting, five calls for video review and three hours, 57 minutes of absolutely compelling baseball that brought the Cubs closer to their third straight postseason appearance. As you surely know, that hasn’t happened for the Cubs since 1906-07-08.

Good times. Let’s keep this going. John Lackey will go for the Cubs Friday night against Brandon Woodruff. A reminder that the time of this game was changed from 7:10 p.m. CT to 6:35 p.m. CT because ESPN wanted to televise.