From 2015-17 the Cubs played exceptionally well in Miller Park, going 19-10 there.
Thus it figured to be a good place for the Cubs to break out of the funk that had them shut out on consecutive days by teams (Reds, Marlins) that don’t figure to be that good by the end of the season.
That’s exactly what happened. The Cubs got solid pitching out of Jon Lester and the bullpen and the offense broke through in an 8-0 shutout win over the Brewers.
The Brewers obviously had a game plan that included running wild on Lester. When Ryan Braun walked with two out in the first inning, he just... took off for second base. A walking lead, then just ran, and not very fast, because there was no attempt to stop him. Then he did it again trying to take third. That’s when this happened:
That wasn’t exactly pretty, the throw from Lester to Kris Bryant, but it got the job done.
In the second inning, Willson Contreras led off with a single. One out later, Addison Russell also singled, and Braun threw to the wrong base, allowing Russell to take second. Javier Baez singled them both in, bringing up Lester. That’s when this happened:
Lester’s bouncer hit two gloves on its way to center field. Pitcher Brent Suter and second baseman Hernan Perez both touched it. Perez was given an error, though I thought Lester should have been credited with a single. When center fielder Lorenzo Cain bobbled the ball, Baez picked that up (you can see him glancing back in the video) and ran right through a stop sign from third base coach Brian Butterfield to score.
This is not recommended. But Javy was just being Javy. His baseball instincts are off the charts. Not only did he recognize in an instant that he could score, but he wound up putting together a perfect slide to get under the tag from catcher Jett Bandy.
The three runs that scored in that inning would have been enough with Lester’s excellent outing. He threw 89 pitches (61 strikes) and allowed only three hits and a walk. Had Baez not walked in the top of the seventh, Lester might have come out for the bottom of the frame.
By then the Cubs had put two more on the board with an RBI triple by Albert Almora Jr. and a subsequent RBI double from Russell. They added another in the eighth on an RBI single by Bryant, scoring Ian Happ, who had singled and stolen second base.
In the ninth, the Brewers sent their closer, Corey Knebel, in for an inning of work. You usually wouldn’t do this in a 6-0 game, but Knebel hadn’t thrown since March 30 and typically managers will try to get closers some work like this.
With one out, Knebel hit Baez, who reached base all five times he batted in this one (a single, three walks and that HBP. About the walks:
UPDATE: Javier Báez 2017-18— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 6, 2018
18 intentional (2 tonight)
16 non-intentional (1 tonight)
1st career 3-BB game#Cubs
Jason Heyward, who had come into the game an inning earlier, put a really good swing on a Knebel fastball [VIDEO] for his first home run of the season.
That’s one of the best swings I’ve seen from Heyward since he became a Cub. More just like that one, please.
One batter later, Knebel landed awkwardly on his left foot and appeared to suffer some sort of hamstring injury. He was helped off the field and couldn’t put any weight on his left leg at all. You really hate to see that, no matter what team is involved. The way Knebel was carried off the field reminded me of the way Contreras was helped off last August in San Francisco after a similar hamstring injury. I wish Knebel the best in getting back on the field, but he’s likely out for several weeks.
The Cubs bullpen continued its excellent early-season work. Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek and Eddie Butler threw three innings and allowed just one hit, striking out five. Butler, in particular, has been a revelation in the pen. He struck out two of the three hitters he faced and his fastball was consistently hitting 95. Looks like management made the right choice in keeping him on the 25-man roster.
And if you were worried about Jon Lester, consider this:
Most starts with 5+ IP & 1 or fewer runs allowed (2016-present)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 6, 2018
31 Jon Lester
26 Max Scherzer
25 Chris Sale
25 Clayton Kershaw
Miller Park didn’t come close to selling out for the first of this four-game series. The paid attendance announced was 24,310, and as usual, it sounded on TV like about half Cubs fans. I’d expect more tonight and over the weekend. The restriction of ticket sales to Wisconsin residents, referred to in the broadcast, was just for one presale. Clearly — at least for this game — it didn’t accomplish what the Brewers wanted it to. If Cubs fans want to go to games in Milwaukee, they will find a way.
A thank you goes to NBC Sports Chicago, who restored “CUBS” to their scorebox:
One last note. Again, the jersey the Cubs wear should have nothing to do with their play, but the team is now 3-0 this year wearing road grays, and 0-3 wearing the blue alts. Baseball people being the superstitious (or as Joe Maddon would say, “little-stitious”) folks they generally are, perhaps wearing the grays the rest of this road trip is called for.
Friday night, Kyle Hendricks goes for the Cubs against Brewers righthander Brandon Woodruff. Game time is 7:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage is on NBC Sports Chicago Plus.