I just had a feeling before this series, noted in the series preview, that it would split.
And that’s exactly what we got after the Cubs got the bats rolling early and hung on for an 8-4 win over the Brewers. That kept the Cubs’ lead in the N.L. Central at three games, with two more games knocked off the schedule.
Anthony Rizzo got things rolling with two out in the first after a David Bote single with a laser beam of a home run to left [VIDEO].
That one just made it into the left-field basket:
That’s a pretty low launch angle, too. It gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile, Hendricks was cruising, his fastball touching 88 — about as good as I’ve seen it this year —and he struck out five through the first three innings.
The Cubs tacked two more runs on the board in the third. Javier Baez tripled and Jason Heyward doubled to lead off the inning and then the Brewers started throwing baseballs all over the place. Heyward’s double scored Javy, but J-Hey was thrown out on a fielder’s choice trying to take third. Two wild pitches scored David Bote with the second run of the inning, making it 4-0.
Hendricks looked like he’d get out of the fourth unscathed, too, but after the first two hitters were out, doubles by Travis Shaw and Jonathan Schoop made it 4-1, and a single by Eric Thames scored a second run for the Brewers.
Then the Cubs broke the game open in the fifth, thanks in part to some sketchy Milwaukee defense. Willson Contreras led off with a single, was sacrificed to second and scored on a single by Addison Russell to make it 5-2. Russell was wild-pitched to second, and after Baez struck out, Heyward singled him in. That’s when the defense went wacky. Bote lofted a popup that should have been caught, but Shaw, who’s been moved to second base with the acquisition of Mike Moustakas, had no idea where the ball was and it dropped untouched for a single. Rizzo popped a single among three Brewers fielders for another hit, scoring Heyward and making it 7-2.
Rizzo was charged with a tough error on a ball that took an odd bounce in the fifth, and Moustakas singled, but Hendricks induced a double-play comebacker to end the inning, and then he had a 1-2-3 sixth which made it look like he could go at least seven and maybe even eight innings.
Unfortunately, a single and a walk leading off the seventh brought Joe Maddon out to replace Kyle, who left to a warm ovation. Carl Edwards Jr. entered, and you can officially mark me as worried about CJ. He got an out — on a screaming line drive caught by Russell. Then he issued a walk and a pair of singles that made it 7-4.
Joe brought Justin Wilson in to face Shaw, and Wilson’s first two pitches were out of the strike zone, bringing on an “oh no, not this again” feeling. But Wilson got Shaw to pop up, and Steve Cishek entered to face Schoop, and with the bases loaded, Cishek retired Schoop on a fly to left.
Albert Almora Jr. led off the seventh and did something we haven’t seen in a while [VIDEO].
The homer was Almora’s fifth of the year — but he hadn’t hit one at Wrigley Field since May 14 against the Braves. And he hadn’t homered at all since June 28 at Dodger Stadium. It was good to see Almora walk twice and homer in this game, because entering the game he had been mired in a 6-for-43 (.140) slump since July 26. If Almora and some of the other slumping bats can get going — as they did in this game — that’s a really good sign.
Two batters later, Joe let Cishek bat with Contreras on first base and one out. Cishek struck out, but Contreras got to second anyway on a balk by Corbin Burnes. Joe’s faith in sticking with Cishek paid off, as Steve retired the side in order in the eighth. He was a model of efficiency in this game, recording four outs on just nine pitches, all strikes. That’s helpful, as it should make him available Thursday in Pittsburgh.
The Cubs didn’t score in the eighth, despite a single by Baez and a botched double play by Schoop, as he never stepped on second base after taking a throw from Jesus Aguilar. A DP was called on the field, but the Cubs challenged and won [VIDEO].
And so, Pedro Strop entered the game in the ninth, in a non-save situation. His fifth pitch to Christian Yelich was driven deep into left-center field... but defensive replacement Ian Happ was right there [VIDEO].
Terrific grab by Happ, and after Strop hit Lorenzo Cain, he retired Moustakas on a line drive to Heyward, and struck out Hernan Perez to end it, a satisfying win.
A note from earlier in the game: Ryan Braun made a diving attempt to catch Heyward’s double in the third inning. An inning later he left the game with what was described as “right rib cage tightness.” You never want to see anyone injured — seriously, not even Braun — but I won’t be unhappy to not see him in the Milwaukee lineup for a few days. Brewers catcher Manny Pina also left the game after a collision with Baez on a play at second base in the seventh.
Dire forecasts of rain never came to pass Wednesday afternoon, and the sun was out much of the time. A passing sprinkle went over the ballpark around the fifth inning, but that was all the “rain” for the day, no doubt good news for both teams, as neither wanted a delay or postponement.
The Brewers, no doubt, are a very good team. Presuming the Cubs can hold on to win the N.L. Central, Milwaukee has a great shot at being a wild card and possibly even hosting the game. Despite the horrid showing Tuesday against them, though, the Cubs have had the Brewers’ number all year, now 9-4 against them, with two series remaining. Three games will be played at Miller Park the week of Labor Day, then the following week at Wrigley Field. Those games will likely decide the division title.
Meanwhile, the Brewers need to watch their rear flank, as if the Cardinals defeat the Nationals in their night game, St. Louis will trail Milwaukee by just one game. Personally, I’d rather have the Nats win that one, and tomorrow too, cool the Cardinals off.
The Cubs head to Pittsburgh to begin a four-game set against the Pirates Thursday night at PNC Park. Jon Lester will go for the Cubs and Ivan Nova starts for the Pirates. Game time Thursday is 6:05 p.m. CT, with TV coverage on NBC Sports Chicago.