CHICAGO — With the way the Milwaukee Brewers are scuffling offensively, early runs by the opposing team seem too much to overcome.
Such was the case Sunday afternoon, as the Chicago Cubs jumped out to a 4-0 lead on starter Marco Estrada and kept Milwaukee’s lifeless offense at bay to hold on for a 4-2 victory and a series win over the Brewers at Wrigley Field for the first time since 2011.
A day after being shut out on four hits, the Brewers managed just three hits Sunday with one being a two-run home run from Rickie Weeks in the fifth inning.
Milwaukee scored four runs on five hits in the first two innings of Friday’s series opener but were dismal in the series thereafter, scoring just two runs on 11 hits with 38 strikeouts in their last 25 innings.
Down Carlos Gomez for the fifth straight game — his first missed due to an illness — and with Aramis Ramirez on the disabled list, the Brewers’ offense is in a major funk.
"There’s not much we can do," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We don’t get enough guys on that we can get the runners going. We don’t have enough opportunities to bunt a whole lot. I know (Jean Segura) kind of started to bunt one time for a hit, but we’ll have to figure out a way to get some base runners on so we can create some problems."
After Edwin Jackson pitched seven scoreless innings against the Brewers on Saturday, Travis Wood took a no-hitter into the fifth and allowed just two hits over seven innings for the first time since last May. Wood entered with a 4.91 ERA and had allowed 12 earned runs over his last two starts.
The Brewers pounded the left-hander for five runs on seven hits at Miller Park on April 26, but Wood overcame a shaky first inning in which he walked the bases loaded to cruise through Milwaukee’s lineup Sunday.
"The first inning, or two, really when you have a pitcher in trouble, you need to get to him early," Roenicke said. "That’s what happened with us yesterday. They get some people on base, they got some big hits in that first inning, they score the runs and that’s all they needed. So when you get those opportunities early, you need to do something and we didn’t get the big hit there."
Following a walk to Luis Valbuena to start the second inning, Cubs catcher Welington Castillo put Chicago up 2-0 with a two-run home run to left off Estrada. Back-to-back doubles by Starlin Castro and Valbuena tacked on another run in the third, while Mike Olt’s solo home run in the fourth put the Cubs up 4-0.
Estrada has now surrendered 12 home runs on the season, tied for the most allowed in the major leagues. Of the 22 runs given up by Estrada this season, 16 have come on home runs.
"Terrible. Plain and simple, terrible," Estrada said. "I’ve got to figure things out. The off-speed pitches haven’t been there and that’s what’s letting me down. Elevating the fastball when I’m not trying to. Plain and simple, it’s just a bad-pitched game.
"I didn’t even give the guys a chance. Four runs isn’t going to cut it. I’ve got to start throwing more Strike 1s and locating the off-speed pitches. The changeup, I didn’t have it at all today. If I don’t have that it’s going to be a battle, and that’s what today was."
Estrada said he felt as if he didn’t have a feel for his changeup Sunday, a real issue for a pitcher that relies on that pitch as much as the right-hander does.
"The good thing is I can normally bounce back from it," Estrada said. "I think it’s my best pitch and normally when I don’t have it I can bounce back from it pretty quick. I just can’t think about it like I was today. I’ve just got to hold the grip, get out there and make the pitch, plain and simple."
Despite giving up four runs early, Milwaukee’s pitching staff kept the Brewers in the game yet again. The bullpen picked Estrada up and threw three scoreless innings, but the offense could do nothing to overcome the deficit.
After Weeks’ home run in the fifth, 10 of Milwaukee’s next 11 batters were retired to end the game, as Ryan Braun’s double to start the ninth was the only base-running the Brewers had in the final four innings.
"It’s baseball," Weeks said. "You can’t go out there and score 10 runs every game. We are going to go through one of these ruts again throughout the year. When you come out there you don’t want to do that, but at the same time, we want to keep pushing and put this game behind us."
Filling in for Ramirez at third base, Mark Reynolds has one hit in his last 20 at-bats, while Jeff Bianchi is one for his last 14. Seeing an increase in playing time with Gomez out, Logan Schafer snapped a four-game hitless skid with a double in the fifth inning Sunday.
Now the Brewers head to Atlanta to face a Braves team that features the lowest team ERA in baseball at 2.84.
"I don’t think it really matters right now," Roenicke said. "I think we talk about there’s good pitching everywhere and your offense just has to be able to score some runs. Our pitching’s still good, even with Marco, he was off yesterday, Garza’s off the first inning and yet, we’re still always in ball games. They’re doing a great job to keep us in games and offensively we need to swing it."