MILWAUKEE — OK, now we know the Milwaukee Brewers can beat the Chicago Cubs.
More important, the Brewers now know they can beat the Cubs.
That was the all-important lesson the upstart Brewers took away from a tension-filled, three-game series at Miller Park that concluded with their 1-0 victory Wednesday. It was their second consecutive victory — both by shutout — over the Cubs and gave them a hard-earned series victory.
In and of itself, the series outcome didn’t mean that much. Make no mistake, however, this series was as pivotal as a series gets at this time of year. Not because the National League Central Division title was there to be won or lost, but because the Brewers had to show themselves and others that they could beat the Cubs.
Chicago has the finest collection of talent in the NL and has averaged 97 victories over the last three seasons, including 2016 when it won the World Series. The Cubs have also dominated the Brewers this season, winning seven of the teams’ eight meetings in April.
More than anything, the Brewers needed to erase the doubt that had to creep into their clubhouse after the Cubs’ early season domination and this series was their first chance to do so. After dropping Monday’s opener in 11 innings when their bullpen failed for one of the few times all season, the Brewers won by scores of 4-0 and 1-0, results that resonated throughout their clubhouse, as they should have.
“They are the team closest to us in the race and they have been the team to beat in the division the last three years,” said starter Jhoulys Chacin, who pitched six shutout innings Wednesday and is threatening to become the ace the Brewers so desperately need. “It’s always good to beat them, especially after the first game, a tough game where we were winning late in the game and they came back against ... our best relievers. To beat them with back-to-back shutouts was a good way to beat them. That’s how they beat us in Chicago. We just didn’t let them score runs the last two games. That’s a pretty good way to win two games and the series.”
The last time the teams met, in late April, the Cubs stung the Brewers, shutting them out three times in four games. So even though the Brewers entered this week’s series with the best record in the NL, most people believed the Cubs, who were several percentage points behind, were the better team.
They were right, too. At this point, the Cubs have better statistics and more elite-level talent. But the Brewers’ high-profile offseason moves are proving to be more effective than the Cubs’ high-profile offseason moves and that has allowed them to close the gap somewhat.
Chacin, a low-profile free-agent signing, has been the best bargain in baseball with a 6-1 record and a 3.32 ERA and outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich have sparked the Brewers on offense and defense. Of the Cubs’ major free-agent acquisitions, closer Brandon Morrow has been excellent but starters Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood have losing records and Darvish is on the disabled list.
Against the Cubs, the Brewers lined up their top three starters — Junior Guerra, Chase Anderson and Chacin — and got strong starts from all three against a team that is known for its starting rotation.
“We’re a good baseball team and we know they’re a good baseball team,” manager Craig Counsell said. “This series wasn’t going to decide anything. But we know that’s a team that’s going to be there in the end so wins against them are important. We played a good series. It was a fabulous series. I sound like a broken record, but we pitched incredibly. That’s a lineup that’s scoring a lot of runs and we shut them down with our pitching very well.”
Despite the disparity in the teams’ head-to-head matchups — the Cubs have still won eight of 11 meetings — this week’s outcome wasn’t a huge surprise. Other than the first game of the season, the games have all been close and low-scoring.
This time, the Brewers won those games.
“I can’t even remember of a game that was a blowout or a no-contest really,” Yelich said. “They’re a great team. You know when you’re coming into the series that it’s going to be about execution and it’s going to be real tight. Fortunately, we came out on top this time.”
“It was a fabulous series. I sound like a broken record, but we pitched incredibly.” Brewers manager Craig Counsell