Joe Maddon said before Wednesday's game at Tropicana Field that the Brewers are "not going to go away," as much as the Cubs would like them to disappear. But with only 11 games left in the season after an 8-1 loss to the Rays on Wednesday, the Cubs ...and more »
Joe Maddon said before Wednesday's game at Tropicana Field that the Brewers are "not going to go away," as much as the Cubs would like them to disappear.
But with only 11 games left in the season after an 8-1 loss to the Rays on Wednesday, the Cubs now have a chance to put them safely in the rear view mirror with a four-game showdown at Miller Park, their home away from home.
This could be a make-or-break series for the Brewers, though the same was said on Sept. 8 when the Brewers came to Wrigley Field for a three-game set trailing the Cubs by five games. Manager Craig Counsell looked at the situation then and gave an honest assessment of its importance.
"When we're in the chasing position we have less room for error," he said. "That's the way it sits. We've certainly got less room for error. When you get into 20 games or so left, and you're chasing, yeah, it's closer to that for us for sure."
The Brewers responded by sweeping the Cubs and outscoring them 20-3, moving to within two games with a gutsy performance that showed they would not be intimidated. But the Cubs went on to win seven straight before Wednesday's loss giving them a bit more breathing room at 3 1/2 games.
And though no one outside Milwaukee was paying attention, the Brewers launched themselves into contention for the second NL wild-card spot, and were a game behind the Rockies after Wednesday night.
Who knew this rebuilding Brewers team had the right stuff to be in contention with only a week and a half left in the season? They finished 16 games under .500 last year and 301/2 games behind the Cubs in the Central Division, and their biggest offseason move was signing Eric Thames out of the Korea League.
"Coming into the year we didn't necessarily know," Brewers general manager David Stearns said. "We knew we had a very inexperienced team that we'd seen flashes of encouragement from before, especially the last 35-40 games of 2016, we played pretty good baseball. We won a lot of those games, some against some pretty good teams.
"So we thought coming into this year if we wanted to allow those players to have the chance to take the next step forward in their development, and we've seen a number of them take the next step forward. Not all of them, but we've certainly seen a number of them, and that's been encouraging to us."
The Brewers suffered a damaging blow on Sept. 8 in Chicago, when starter Jimmy Nelson suffered a strained right rotator cuff and partial anterior labrum tear from sliding back into first base. When Nelson was declared out for the season the next day, it could've been the end of the road.
Instead they responded with a 15-2 win at Wrigley, and Zach Davies and the bullpen shut them down the next day for the sweep. Davies will start it off Thursday, facing Jake Arrieta in the Cubs pitcher's return from a hamstring injury.
Despite the loss of Nelson, the Brewers entered Wednesday with the third-best ERA (2.95) in September, making up for an offense that was hitting .244 for the month, 21st in the majors.
Still, the presence of Ryan Braun, a longtime Cub killer, makes them dangerous, even in an off year for the veteran.
Braun has heard rumors of being traded the last couple of offseasons, but he's still hanging around and hitting in the middle of the Brewers' order.
"I am sure the rumors will creep up this offseason as well," Stearns said. "They do seem to creep up every offseason. Our intention is that Ryan is going to be a Brewer and finish his career as a Brewer.
"That's what Ryan wants. He's been a vital member of this organization obviously for a long time, a valuable member of the community for a long time, and he's still a productive player. As we go through this phase of our organization's continued growth, we think he can provide a stabilizing force."
Braun has a 1.040 OPS against the Cubs this season, and shutting him down could be the key the series.
He's always motivated by Cubs fans booing him at Wrigley, and perhaps even more so when they do it in his own ballpark, which figures to be turned into Wrigley North again this weekend.
Chicago Cubs,Milwaukee Brewers,Miller Park,Wrigley Field,Ryan Braun,David Stearns