Brewers-Cubs makeup game could be harbinger of second-half battle (Jul 06, 2017)

BY AP • July 6, 2017

CHICAGO -- One game hardly defines a baseball season.

But Thursday's makeup game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs will at least offer a snapshot of the current state of the teams, as well as their battle for the NL Central Division title.

The Brewers (47-40) have been sitting atop the NL Central for 45 days and have won six of seven after a 4-0 result at Baltimore on Wednesday. The Cubs are 3-5 in their last eight following a 7-3 come-from-behind win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

Just 9 1/2 games separate the top and bottom teams, so Milwaukee players aren't about to start looking too closely at the standings.

"After the last game is played and we're still up," Brewers right-hander Jimmy Nelson said. "You can't really look at it now. There's a lot of things that can happen. I was here in '14 when all that happened."

The Brewers led the division much of that season, then collapsed in the second half.

Fast-forward three seasons and the defending World Series champion Cubs (42-42) seem sometimes out of sync and have hovered around the .500 mark all season. Chicago has never been four games over or two games under .500 at any point this season.

"On our side, it would be nice to start hitting and scoring more runs," Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. "It feels like we're not clicking at the same time."

Thursday's game makes up a May 20 Wrigley Field rainout. The date comes in the middle of a seven-day Cubs homestand, while the Brewers traveled to Chicago after a game against the Orioles on Wednesday.

Milwaukee will send right-hander Zach Davies (9-4, 5.03 ERA) against Cubs lefty Mike Montgomery (1-5, 2.80).

Davies, making his 18th start, is 4-1 with a no-decision in his last six starts. He's 3-3 with a 4.91 ERA in six career starts against Chicago, including a 7-4 loss on April 9 at Miller Park.

Montgomery makes his sixth start of the year and third at Wrigley Field. He has appeared in eight games against Milwaukee and is 0-2 with a 2.95 ERA, mostly in relief. Montgomery has no record against the Brewers despite a 1.64 ERA in two starts.

After 84 games in 2016, the Cubs were 52-32 and about to send seven representatives to the All-Star Game. This year they have just one -- reliever Wade Davis. Bryant is among contenders in a final vote.

Milwaukee has won five of eight meetings so far and the teams will have 10 more meetings.

"The fun of this is going out and us winning," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "That's what's been fun about it and how we're doing it. The stuff you can't control, that's where this team's been good, just not worrying about that stuff. The stuff you can take care of on the field here is the stuff we're enjoying."

Chicago manager Joe Maddon is not surprised at the Brewers' performances.

"Even last year I was often saying how much they had improved," Maddon said. "I like their bullpen a lot, and this year some of the young guys are doing better offensively and they've added some offense, too."

The Cubs continue their homestand Friday, opening a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates that takes both teams to the All-Star break.

The Brewers are at the New York Yankees for three games to wrap up the season's first half.

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