Brewers ready to take on Cubs for NL Central title
MILWAUKEE — One hundred and sixty-two games just wasn’t enough for the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs.
The teams went into their scheduled regular-season finales Sunday tied for first place atop the NL Central Division and after both pummeled their opponents, the rivals will face off again Monday at Wrigley Field.
The winner will be crowned divisional champion and earn home-field advantage for the playoffs while the loser moves onto the one-and-done NL wild card game Tuesday night.
The Brewers are ready for the challenge.
“Just like the last couple weeks, we’ve approached almost every one of these games like a do-or-die game so tomorrow won’t be any different,” Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said. “Obviously, it will be a challenging place for us to go and win but we’re playing good baseball and if we go in there and do the things we’ve done over the last couple of weeks we’ll forget about where we are at.”
Just forcing the additional game is an impressive accomplishment considering the Brewers sat five games back of the Cubs after opening the month with a 5-4 loss in Washington. Since then, the Brewers have won 19 of their past 25 games, 27 of their past 37 and seven in a row. They’ve also won 11 of their past 12 series, finishing with back-to-back sweeps of the Cardinals and Tigers.
“We did our job,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We got ourselves an extra game, so that’s how we’re looking at it. We just finished a very successful late run to get into that game. We won seven in a row to put ourselves into that game. That’s pretty darn good.”
Chicago won eight of the teams’ first nine meetings this season but the Brewers have bounced back winning seven of the past 10 meetings — including four of six in September — while outscoring their rivals 43-24 during that stretch.
“We’re familiar foes, so there’s nothing to hide,” Counsell said. “There’s nothing new to discuss when you’re playing them necessarily. It’s a lot of familiar territory, and it will be a fun atmosphere and an interesting game and a strategic game, for sure.”
Especially with the possibility of another game, one with win-or-go-home implications, looming on Tuesday. Counsell admitted that he was facing a “critical” situation with his bullpen and would have to manage Sunday’s finale with the possibility of playing both Monday and Tuesday in mind.
Gio Gonzalez, Junior Guerra and Jordan Lyles made it a moot point by combining for a shutout and allowing Counsell to rest his high-leverage relievers.
“We got some guys some rest, which was critical today,” Counsell said. “There were certain guys we were staying away from today, regardless, but those critical innings set us up for (Monday) better.”
Another big showing from the offense would help ease the pressure on the relief corps. The Brewers averaged 5.32 runs per game in September while posting a collective .780 OPS.
Maintaining that production won’t be easy against Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana. Cubs manager Joe Maddon made sure Quintana lined up to face the Brewers in all six of the teams’ series this season and the move paid off as Quintana went 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA. He held Milwaukee scoreless while striking out seven over 6⅔ innings on Sept. 11 at Wrigley Field.
The Associated Press reported on Sunday that the Brewers will counter with right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who is 2-2 with a 1.59 ERA against the Cubs in 2018, but later rescinded that report and said the Brewers had not named a starter.
On Monday, the Brewers did name Chacin the starter for the game.
The 30-year-old Chacin is 15-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 34 starts. The right-hander pitched five innings of one-hit ball in a 2-1 victory at St. Louis on Wednesday night.
The Cubs have won 11 of 17 since dropping two of three to the Brewers Sept. 10-12.
“They’ve got good talent,” (but) I think we’ve got better,” Cubs infielder Javier Baez said. “We’ve just got to keep our plan. We don’t worry about anybody. We know what we’ve got. We’re just going to go out there and play hard.”