Whether a certain pitcher would like to believe it or not, a rivalry intensified last year when the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs tied for first in the NL Central. The rivalry resulted in a one-game playoff that saw the Brewers clinch the division title on Chicago’s home field.
This weekend marks the first series of the season since that eventful day with two teams having very opposite starts to 2019. The Milwaukee Brewers come into the series against the Cubs with a 6-1 record, tops in the National League, and fresh off a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds.
The loss of Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress to start the year hasn’t slowed down the bullpen one bit. While Josh Hader has been every bit as good as imagined, he’s racked up 10 strikeouts, four saves, and one immaculate inning in only five innings of work this year.
The rest of the bullpen has held up its end of the bargain as well giving up just eight runs in 26 1/3 innings, and posting a 2.73 ERA.
Led by 2018 MVP Christian Yelich, the offense has been full of power once again, and is tied for sixth in the league in home runs.
The Cubs, on the other hand, have had a much more disappointing start to the season. Going into Thursday night’s game the Cubs have a 1-4 record, good for last in the NL Central along with the Reds. While Milwaukee’s bullpen has been very good to start the year, Chicago’s has been equally as bad. Relief pitchers have blown saves in three of the Cubs’ four losses and have the second worst ERA in all of baseball at 8.83.
Other than that the Cubs’ offense has actually been respectable, leading the Majors in batting average and on base percentage with the third fewest strikeouts.
Starting Pitcher Matchups
Friday’s game features NLCS hero Brandon Woodruff on the mound for the Milwaukee Brewers against noted Brewer-killer Jose Quintana for the Cubs. Woodruff had a solid first start against St. Louis last Saturday, giving up two runs over five innings, and recording his first win of the season.
Quintana actually hasn’t started a game yet this year – he gave up two runs in four innings of relief in a game where Yu Darvish was pulled after only 2 2/3 innings.
Saturday’s game brings the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes to the mound for his second career major league start to face the Cubs’ rivalry-denying Cole Hamels. Burnes’ first ever major league start on Sunday was a mixed bag. While he produced an eye-popping 12 strikeouts, he also gave up three home runs to the Cardinals in five innings of work.
Hamels was roughed up in his only start, giving up six hits and five earned runs over five innings.
The series finale on Sunday has Zach Davies for the Brewers facing off against Kyle Hendricks for the Cubs. While Davies only gave up two runs in his five innings of work and left the game with the Brewers in the lead, he also walked four and hit a batter and will need to locate better against a much more potent Cubs lineup.
Hendricks took the loss in his first start of the year when he gave up 10 hits and two earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings.
Key Players to Watch
While Quintana didn’t have an amazing 2018 overall, he certainly seemed to have the Milwaukee Brewers figured out. In seven starts last year against the Brewers, Quintana compiled a 4-1 record, 2.13 ERA, and held Milwaukee to just a .196 batting average. The Brewers will need to figure him out if they want to start the series off strong.
Hader has been nothing short of amazing this year, giving up only one hit, one walk, and no runs so far. The Brewers have won five of their six games by just one run and Hader has worked in four of those games. Can he be expected to continued to shoulder the same workload if the games versus the Cubs are just as close?
The Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs series is always going to bring out heightened emotions from both fanbases. Fresh off a division title, hopefully Brewers fans will show out in force at Miller Park.