August is coming to a close. The playoffs are closer than it seems, and with the division still up for grabs, the Chicago Cubs took two out of three in a crucial series against the Milwaukee Brewers. It was a tight, low-scoring series that saw the Cubs inch ever closer to overtaking the Brewers in the division.
Three Notes From the Cubs Series Win Over the Brewers
The Brewers entered the series as one of the hottest teams in baseball. Even without their recently torrid offense, the games went just about as planned for this Milwaukee team. The starters provided length and quality, the bullpen only allowed a single run, and the offense would be able to secure those tight games, right?
It wasn’t so simple for Milwaukee.
The series started in an encouraging fashion. Christian Yelich led off the first game with a home run against struggling starter Jameson Taillon. The Brewers would put up five runs against Taillon in the first two innings. Sal Frelick and Willy Adames both singled in the first inning and Mark Canha was there to knock a three-run homer- all three hits came on balls left hanging middle-middle in the zone.
After that early offensive burst, the Brewers’ offense scored three runs over the next twenty-five innings.
It was disappointing to see the offense fall flat after such a fantastic run recently. Especially since the rest of the game plan went so well. Some of the most encouraging starters in recent weeks for the Brewers got some run in this series, and they all pitched well.
Wade Miley went six innings and only allowed two runs, both solo homers. Corbin Burnes went seven innings and took the loss on the lone run he allowed. Brandon Woodruff went six innings and allowed two runs, continuing his return to form after missing four months with injury.
Brandon Woodruff’s start was the most promising he has had in August after his return. He limited hard contact and had a 43% swing-and-miss rate. The Brewers’ rotation is their clear and defined strength right now and it has only been getting better.
The bullpen was solid, as well. The relief corps allowed a single run over six innings of work. The problem? It came in the series finale with the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The pitching was overwhelmingly positive as a takeaway for the Brewers this series. The offense needs to find more consistency to make a run in the playoffs, though. There will be games against teams with pitching just as good as, or better than, the Cubs once October arrives.
Steele and Hendricks
The Cubs received some impressive pitching of their own in the nailbiter series. Justin Steele will surely have his name on Cy Young ballots by the end of the season, and this division rivalry matchup only helped his case.
In the Cubs’ 1-0 win, Steele went six innings while allowing no runs on six hits, a walk, and eight strikeouts. The hard contact he allowed resulted in groundouts, a few flyouts, and a trio of singles. One of those singles was a 100 MPH liner that hit him just near his knee in the second inning. It was a scary moment for Steele, but he stayed in to pitch to a career-high 111 pitches.
Steele was able to challenge hitters all night, throwing 80 of those 111 pitches for strikes. Despite his approach centered around the strike zone, the Brewers didn’t manage to barrel a single ball. Five of his strikeouts came on the slider and the other three with his fastball.
The Cubs will need more than just Steele to win in the playoffs. Hendricks is doing his part to show he still has it. Since his ugly start on August 4 against the Atlanta Braves when he gave up seven runs, he has a 2.48 ERA, although those were all notably against non-contenders until his start against Milwaukee.
In the rivalry rubber match, Hendricks went six shutout innings and struckout six batters. The only run the Brewers scored under his watch came on Hendricks’ own fielding error that allowed Yelich to reach second base on an infield grounder. He gave up four hard hits, two of which were groundouts and the other two were singles.
Hendricks had his masterful control on full display, with his changeup getting eleven swing-and-misses for a 41% whiff percentage. It was a great wipeout pitch, but the pitch tempted batters to swing even when the ball would break away and turn into a weak groundout.
That ability to force weak contact has been a key part of Hendricks’ recent uptick in production. The average exit velocity on his changeup in this start was 77.2 MPH and the Brewers couldn’t connect for a single hit harder than 82 MPH on the pitch. “The Professor” continues to impress with his ability to command the zone and work deep into starts despite his lack of elite velocity.
The National League Central is certainly looking different than expected at the start of the season, and fans are all the better for it. The Brewers’ three-game division lead looks a lot smaller than when Milwaukee’s offense was scoring over seven runs a game. The Cubs have firmly planted themselves in the Wild Card race, but they will have their sights on something much higher.
Both teams have been playing great baseball lately and they still have to play each other again for the final three games of the season. It’s hard to tell how far these teams can go in the playoffs. The Brewers have a perfectly .500 record against winning teams, currently sitting 38-38. Their pitching is exceptional, but their lackluster offense has turned into a meager +21 run differential.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have a +77 run differential. They said they were better than their record through the early parts of the season and that turned out to be the case. But their 31-17 record against winning teams is not encouraging. Going by their Expected Win-Loss records, the Cubs would actually be leading the division.
According to Tankathon’s Remaining Schedule Strength page, the Brewers have a slightly easier schedule to close out the season. But given the talent on these two squads, it isn’t hard to imagine an outcome where it comes down to those final three games against each other. From the teams’ top pitching matchups, to the promising rookies and trade acquisitions, this division race looks like it will be a fight up to the last moment.
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