MILWAUKEE — The Chicago Cubs won’t play their home opener at Wrigley Field for another four days, but Friday will offer the next-best thing when the Cubs open a three-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
Cubs fans have turned Milwaukee’s home field into “Wrigley North” over the last few seasons and will likely be out in full force as the team defends its first World Series title in 108 years.
The Cubs spent nearly a week in St. Louis. They arrived last Saturday and played the season opener Sunday night. Monday was an off-day and the teams returned to action Tuesday, were rained out Wednesday then finished the series on Thursday.
Manager Joe Maddon was pleased with how his team handled the challenge.
“Sitting in a hotel, it’s not easy to keep your routine, your edge,” Maddon said. “It’s kind of an awkward way to start, but to win two out of three is really spectacular on the part of our players.”
After dropping the season opener in St. Louis, Chicago took two more from the Cardinals for its first series victory of the season.
“I wish we could win every series,” John Lackey said. “It’s always nice to get off to a good start, winning two out of three against a team in your division. It’s going to be a tough season so we’re going to have to play well.”
Lefty Brett Anderson will make his season debut for the Cubs. He’ll be facing the Brewers for just the second time in his career.
Anderson, who missed almost all of last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers because of a back injury, has settled in with the Cubs and is looking to start the season on a high note.
“My body feels good,” Anderson said. “My arm feels good, and you’re getting into the dog days of spring training where you’re itching to get to the real thing. The outing in Houston (on Thursday) will get you closer to that adrenaline level and atmosphere and get ready for the regular season.”
Milwaukee hands the ball to right-hander Jimmy Nelson for his first start of the season.
Nelson is looking to bounce back after struggling down the stretch in 2016; he went 3-13 with a 5.79 ERA over his final 21 starts and finished the year 8-16 with a 4.62 ERA.
He made five appearances, including four starts, in Cactus League play and posted an 0-1 record with a 4.58 ERA. But he finished with a 0.79 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings, including five innings of one-run ball in his final spring tune-up, against the Chicago White Sox.
“Good approach for him, good sinker, good slider behind the count,” catcher Manny Pina said. “I think the bigger thing for him is to keep throwing the first pitches for strikes.”
Nelson has faced the Cubs 12 times, including 10 starts. He’s 1-6 with a 3.68 ERA and has struck out 60 in 63 2/3 innings.
Milwaukee finished 73-89 last year, 30 1/2 games behind the Central Division Champion Cubs. But the Brewers fared well against Chicago, going 8-11, including 5-4 at Miller Park.