Brewers reliever Josh Hader celebrates after his team beat the Cubs to win the NL Central.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Spiegel: Brewers' Time Has Come

The 2018 Brewers are to the Cubs what the 2015 Cubs were to the Cardinals.

Matt Spiegel
October 01, 2018 - 4:35 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Analogies are never perfect, but the relationships of three National League Central teams have felt intertwined in a specific way to me all year.

The 2018 Brewers are to the Cubs as the 2015 Cubs were to the Cardinals.  

The big brother loomed from the south, as the little brother built a complete roster, developed its young players, added some well-chosen veterans and schemed to dethrone the champion. It’s a frustrating-but-invigorating challenge when the organizational standard you aspire to happens to also be the most hated rival. 

At Wrigley Field on Monday, the Brewers arrived in earnest. With a 3-1 win in a Game 163 that decided the NL Central crown, the Brewers passed the Cubs.  

Until at least Thursday night. Should the Cubs win the coin flip wild-card game at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night, they'd face the Brewers again, with a best-of-five referendum on ultimate supremacy presenting a new opportunity.

Though the Brewers played well for most of in 2017, you knew they weren't fully ready to win. It was their "bonus year."  Remember when the Cubs went up to Milwaukee and took three of four in late September? The only loss came on a Wade Davis blown save, which was followed by a Jose Quintana complete-game shutout. The Brewers were toast. 

The offseason was spent waiting for the Brewers to add the top-of-the-rotation pitcher whom we all expected, but they let Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish go elsewhere. Instead, they added to an existing strength, the outfield, with two acquisitions that came to define their maturation. Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich have been outstanding while also standing as emblems of the organizational evolution. 

Three years ago, the Cubs finally proved themselves ready to leap over the hump in a memorable National League Division Series against the Cardinals. That summer and fall, the impending shift in power was palpable. You basked in it on a crisp night in October

You could feel this Brewers bunch churning with a vengeance over the past month, and it has been excruciating. They seemed on a clear, inexorable march. The Cubs didn't blow this division; the Brewers just flat out took it. Credit them. 

The big brother-little brother dynamic is a familiar one of course, beyond the recent Cubs-Cardinals relationship. The Isaiah Thomas Pistons had to get past the Larry Bird Celtics before they could make the NBA Finals, and then the Michael Jordan Bulls had to get past the Pistons. The Patrick Ewing Knicks and the Reggie Miller Pacers couldn't follow suit. The Derrick Rose Bulls will forever be thought of as the meek pipsqueak sibling for LeBron James to toy with, as he did with both the Cavaliers and Heat.

In baseball, the Red Sox didn’t erase the decades-long dominance of the Yankees until the 2004 American League Championship Series. In a smaller league during a simpler time, the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers finally got past the Yankees in a crosstown World Series. Sandy Amoros made a catch that caused Joe DiMaggio to kick the dirt, and big brother had to admit they were beat.

Monday was a special nine innings at Wrigley Field, even if partisan Cub fans can't appreciate it in the moment. Brewers fans apparently clicked and spent online in droves when tickets became available Sunday night, as I’d guess they comprised at least 25 percent of the crowd.  

Brewers fans chanted "MVP" loudly for Yelich, who has locked up that award with his absurd September.  Cubs fans finally exploded when Anthony Rizzo hit one so far out to right in the fifth inning that Yelich didn’t move an inch, the ball sailing high over his head to the back of the bleachers. For the next several innings, the energy at Wrigley shifted dramatically from side to side, with the clashing masses riling each other to rarified heights. I kept looking around expecting to see a fight, but it was more of an a capella style battle out of Pitch Perfect, with beer.

The energy was tangible and palpable to so many senses. The stolid press box wasn't the place from which to watch this one; I found a seat toward the top of the 400 section, where the exuberance and volume swept people to their feet, then shoved them back down again. There’s nothing like a baseball game with this level of intensity shared among 40,000. It's to be treasured, because we never know when we’ll get to be in the midst of it again.

These Brewers are terrifying. They're ready. Their bullpen is well-built for this era’s game, and Craig Counsell has proven himself shrewd in managing it. Yelich has gone with the extremely successful strategy of not making any outs. Ryan Braun has woken up in September and destroyed left-handed pitching with a 1.300 OPS. Cain has been almost as valuable as Yelich all season and has helped instill a calm confidence you can sense from 76 miles away. The roster is incredibly deep and flexible, with daunting matchup possibilities for lefties and righties alike.   

The best the Cubs can now hope for is another shot at the Brewers beginning Thursday night up the road those 76 miles. A five-game sample could allow the Cubs' advantage of starting pitching to matter more, and maybe Pedro Strop comes back to give manager Joe Maddon another weapon in an extremely tired, chaotic bullpen. 

But the Brewers have a glow. They attacked the July trade deadline and the August waiver period like a glutton looking to empty the fridge, and their meal appears all prepped and ready to devour. 

I tweeted Saturday night that I didn't know if the Brewers would ever lose again. A little hyperbole there, of course, and baseball usually jumps up and smacks you whenever you think of a team in those terms. 

But I don’t think they’ll get beat in a series by the Cubs or anyone else in the NL. Maybe the Red Sox can take them down in a few weeks. 

The NL Central is going to be an absolute beast for the foreseeable future, and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has some serious work to do. Unlike the 2015 Cardinals, the Cubs aren't dependent on an aging core. A few well-chosen modifications could be all they need to reclaim superiority, as the winning window in Chicago is far from over.  

But for now, the big brother has been forced to concede that his once profound psychological advantage is toast.  

The Brewers are for real, and their time has come.

Follow Matt Spiegel on Twitter @MattSpiegel670. For more from and about Matt, visit www.mattspiegel.com.​​