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Brewers 8, Cubs 5: Bullpen meltdown

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The Cubs actually looked like they had a chance to win this game, for a while. And then... not.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Cubs went out to an early lead Friday night in Milwaukee, then extended it, and kept that lead with just six outs to go.

Could they actually win a game from the Brewers?

Unfortunately, no. Rowan Wick had a rare bad outing and a four-run Milwaukee eighth inning gave them an 8-5 win over the Cubs, who have now lost 10 straight to the Brewers.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this game, which was much better for the visitors.

Zach Davies retired the first nine Brewers he faced. That’s good!

And then the Cubs put together a nicely-played four-run fourth inning. Ian Happ walked and one out later, Patrick Wisdom singled him to third. That brought up Alfonso Rivas [VIDEO].

There weren’t as many Cubs fans as usual in Milwaukee, understandably so, in a smallish crowd of 28,483, but you can hear them on that clip.

Wisdom had taken third on Rivas’ hit and scored on this error by Eduardo Escobar [VIDEO].

Rivas took second on that play and then Sergio Alcántara made it 3-0 [VIDEO].

A wild pitch by Brewers starter Adrian Houser made it 4-0 [VIDEO].

Alcántara moved up to second and then stole third. Davies tried a squeeze, but Alcántara was thrown out at the plate.

That’s a well-played rally! Could the Cubs hold that lead?

Yes, but Davies gave three of the four runs back in the bottom of the fourth. This has been a pattern for him, decent pitching early, then running out of gas in the middle innings.

Frank Schwindel extended the lead to 5-3 in the fifth with his 14th home run of the season [VIDEO].

That’s 14 home runs total for Schwindel, 13 as a Cub in just 161 at-bats (174 PA). He also singled in this game, his third consecutive multi-hit game. He’s on a seven-game hitting streak in which he is batting .419/.455/.806 (13-for-31) with three doubles and three home runs. For the month of September: .406/.449/.781 (26-for-64) with seven home runs. Keep that up and Frank the Tank could be NL Player of the Month.

The home run was also unusual for this reason:

Anyway, the Brewers loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth off Davies with one out and David Ross brought in Codi Heuer. That’s early for Heuer, but a very high-leverage situation, so a good test for him. Heuer struck out Omar Narvaez, but then walked Luis Urias, forcing in a run. A strikeout of Jace Peterson ended the inning with the Cubs leading 5-4. Heuer then threw a scoreless sixth, so overall, his night was pretty good:

The Cubs, though, could not get any further offense going. Two baserunners in the sixth and one in the eighth was it for the evening.

Credit where it’s due: Trevor Megill threw a 1-2-3 seventh and you could see in that inning why the Cubs still have some hope for him. Personally, I’d need to see more like that before I’d let Megill back into the “circle of trust,” but it was a well-pitched inning.

Rowan Wick then entered in the eighth and it seemed clear David Ross was hoping for a two-inning save from Wick. He allowed a one-out single, then struck out Peterson. Things were looking good, and then Wick fell apart. A walk and a single tied the game and another walk and single gave the Brewers a 7-5 lead. Some of the pitches Wick threw in this sequence weren’t anywhere near the strike zone, for example:

By the time of that at-bat, Wick had already thrown 21 pitches and looked like he was running out of gas.

After the second single noted above, by Cubs nemesis Kolten Wong, Dillon Maples replaced Wick and wild-pitched Milwaukee’s eighth run across the plate. Then he issued a pair of walks before striking out Jackie Bradley Jr. to end the inning.

You all know I’ve been a big fan of Maples for a long time, hoping he’d figure things out with that devastating slider. But he just can’t get that walk rate down — he’s walked 25 batters out of 139 faced this year, or 18 percent. That’s way, way, way too high. Unfortunately — because I still think that slider is a great out pitch — the Cubs will probably have to move on from Maples after 2021.

Josh Hader retired three Cubs after Rafael Ortega walked leading off the ninth and the Brewers completed their victory. The loss was the Cubs’ 82nd of the year. The selloff and the 12-game losing streak that followed had pretty much doomed the Cubs to a losing season in 2021; this loss clinched it, with 16 games remaining the Cubs will finish under .500 for the first time since 2014.

Nevertheless, I did find some positives in this game — the four-run rally, good relief from Heuer and Megill. That’s more than I thought I would see Friday evening.

It won’t get easier Saturday in the second game of this series. Justin Steele will start for the Cubs and Corbin Burnes, who nearly no-hit Cleveland last Saturday, is the scheduled starter for the Brewers. Game time is 6:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Fox-TV (regional — coverage map). A reminder that if you subscribe to MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings, you can watch tonight’s game via those services if the game is not being carried on the Fox affiliate in your market.