Cubs Plenty Confident As Brewers Challenge

The Cubs have a three-game lead over the Brewers after the 8-4 win.

Chris Emma
August 15, 2018 - 6:41 pm
Cubs third baseman David Bote (13) slides into home plate to score as Brewers catcher Manny Pina looks to apply the tag.

Patrick Gorski/USA Today Sports

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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- The heat of August greeted the Cubs as they took to Wrigley Field on Wednesday cool and comfortable as can be.

Really, it's what manager Joe Maddon has come to expect of his team during its time atop the National League Central. Despite an upstart division challenger in the Brewers waiting to take their swings and an ugly showing the day before, the Cubs emerged from the dugout knowing their best selves are tough to beat any given day.

The Cubs then went out and earned an 8-4 victory over the Brewers, backed by three RBIs from Anthony Rizzo in his return to the cleanup role, a home run from Albert Almora Jr. late and six solid innings from right-hander Kyle Hendricks. The lineup produced one day after being shut out, and the bullpen was stout to seal the victory.

The Cubs improved to 69-50 and stretched their lead over the Brewers to three games. It's the latest one-day sampling of such a methodical routine for this team, but is it fun?

"Yeah, when you win," Rizzo said.

Ever since the Cubs defeated the Pirates in the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and followed by taking the division series from the Cardinals in four games, they have rested comfortably on the NL Central throne. Their latest challenger is the Brewers, who added cornerstones in Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain this offseason to the likes of Ryan Braun and Eric Thames.

The Brewers committed to their chances this season by trading before the deadline for third baseman Mike Moustakas and infielder Jonathan Schoop, among others. They're built unconventionally with square pegs in round holes -- see Travis Shaw's defensive struggles at second base, for example -- but are "thick" in lineup depth, as Maddon said.

In reality, the Brewers are just trying to pack their best punch for the Cubs and hoping it matters in the end. They're absolutely paying attention to what's happening south in Chicago and understand the challenge they face. Milwaukee surrendered its division lead on July 13 amid a 2-9 stretch that created urgency in the front office. Ever since, the Brewers have remained within three games of the Cubs and look like they will be a threat to the end.

"Everybody looks at the standings," manager Craig Counsell said. "That's what we're in this for, is the standings and to try to finish on top of them. You try to win games. You win games and you know that'll take care of itself.

"We added players to try to go to the postseason and to make ourselves better. We had a good team coming into the deadline. We feel like we added to it right before the deadline. We feel like we put ourselves in a good position to enjoy the last seven weeks with some exciting, fun baseball."

The awkward fit of Schoop -- a more natural second baseman -- playing shortstop and a corner infielder in Shaw playing second base hints at moves of desperation in Milwaukee. Manny Machado would've been just what the Brewers needed, but they couldn't match the package sent by the Dodgers to the Orioles. A scramble ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline gave the Brewers what they believe is enough to catch the Cubs.

No player is more important to the Brewers than Yelich, the 26-year-old All-Star outfielder who now boasts a slash line of .309/.372/.514. The presence of Cain, signed within the hour that Yelich was acquired by trade, and Moustakas brings a World Series pedigree to the clubhouse. Maddon appreciated the loose nature of the Brewers that resembles his Cubs.

But they know that time is ticking away to catch the Cubs, and the pressure will be great from here.

"It's fun," Yelich said. "It's what you play the game for. We'll see how it goes. It's going to come down to the end, I have a feeling."

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What makes the Cubs unique is how they handle everything thrown at them. Whether it was the 3-1 deficit in the World Series in 2016, a sub-.500 hole in 2017 or yet another foe after their crown, they take it all in stride.

The Cubs did converse before and after their 7-0 loss on Tuesday, but the discussions remain the same as always: We can be so much better.

Just as it was all along, the greatest foe for the Cubs remains their own inconsistencies. They've been fascinating yet frustrating for much of this regular season but realize there's better baseball to be played.

Even before the cool of autumn replaces that summer heat, the Cubs won't sweat the challenge of a team like the Brewers.

"We can't focus on trying to separate from them," Almora said. "We just got to keep playing baseball. Let the baseball do the talking, let the talent do the talking and just play the game hard. Whatever's going to happen is going to happen. 

"Honestly, I'm trying to worry about us. Whatever they're doing, whatever they're thinking, whatever they're saying, that's on them. Good luck to them. But at the same time, we're just focused on the Cubs."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.