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Brewers 2, Cubs 0: A frustrating defeat

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The Cubs couldn’t get any offense going, and certainly didn’t get any help from plate umpire Rob Drake.

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Cole Hamels looked great, throwing 5⅔ innings, allowing just five baserunners and none past second base, and three Cubs relievers threw three scoreless innings, and...

Oh, wait. You know that partial sentence above left out something important, and that’s the first five batters of this game. Hamels, before settling down and looking sharp, allowed a double, two walks and a two-run single to the first five Brewers hitters and the Cubs could do nothing offensively, so the result was a frustrating 2-0 defeat Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Hamels started this game as if he wasn’t going to make it out of the first inning. A ground ball down the left-field line by Ben Gamel just eluded Kris Bryant. Hamels struck out Hernan Perez, but then loaded the bases on walks. Herein, though, lies part of the tale of a very poorly-umpired game behind the plate by Rob Drake:

So if pitch 3 had been correctly called a strike, Hamels is up on Yasmani Grandal 1-2 and maybe he gets him out and that inning goes differently.

But it wasn’t. And after the bases were loaded, Manny Pina singled in two runs.

Everyone pretty much could have gone home just then, because that’s all the scoring there was. The Cubs did get two runners on in the bottom of the first, but Javier Baez flied to center. They didn’t have any further runners in scoring position until the fifth, when Hamels doubled with one out. But he was stranded.

Hamels had been helped out by some good defense, including this slick sliding catch [VIDEO] by Jason Heyward in the fourth.

In the sixth, Kris Bryant led off and was called out on strikes. KB argued — you almost never see him do that. You make the call:

Pitch 5, which was called strike three, was pretty close — the problem was that Drake was inconsistent in these calls. Some of these borderline pitches were strikes, some were balls, and it was bad for both teams. Later in that inning, after Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez had singled, look at pitch 5 to Kyle Schwarber:

Oh, heavens no, Rob Drake, that was not a strike.

To be fair, neither was pitch 6 in this sequence, from Kyle Ryan to Grandal to end the seventh:

The Cubs will take that one, to be sure, but it was just a horrendous day for ball-and-strike calls. Did it cost the Cubs the game? Probably not, because they simply couldn’t get much going against any of the Brewers pitchers, but in the case of the called strike three to Schwarber, maybe he can reach base and then the bases are loaded with one out.

The automated strike zone can’t get here soon enough for me. Again, I make this suggestion: Why not give managers two ball-and-strike challenges per game? Calls like this would be quick to overturn and would not slow the game down too much.

The Brewers also got some good defense. With one out in the eighth, Josh Hader entered the game to face Rizzo. Hader threw ball one to Rizzo and then Anthony squared up on a Hader fastball and hit it hard — unfortunately, Orlando Arcia made a diving grab [VIDEO].

Unlike many Hader outings, this one only had two strikeouts among the five outs he recorded. Schwarber, leading off the ninth, tried to bunt his way on — not a bad idea, I thought, had he been able to get the ball down, Travis Shaw was playing back at third base and Schwarber could have reached. Then Joe likely sends Tony Kemp in to run for him and...

Sigh. It didn’t happen. Schwarber fouled off the bunt attempt and struck out, Victor Caratini flied to right and Addison Russell struck out. Hader recorded five outs on only 12 pitches.

This is a tip o’ the cap game. The other guy played better, and the Cubs couldn’t recover from Hamels’ early jitters. It happens. Some thoughts from Joe Maddon on what Davies did to keep the Cubs off-balance:

The Cardinals defeated the Reds in the first game of their doubleheader Saturday afternoon, so the Cubs currently trail by two games. If the Reds can split the twin bill tonight, that will be reduced to 1½, and the Reds and Cards play another doubleheader Sunday.

Sunday is also when the Cubs will try for the series win against the Brewers. Yu Darvish takes the mound for the Cubs against Gio Gonzalez for Milwaukee. Game time is again 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage Sunday is on NBC Sports Chicago.