Cubs visit Brewers in rubber game (Jul 30, 2017)
MILWAUKEE -- Baseball people love to say "It's not even August" while downplaying the importance of midseason games. So it was notable when Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon invented the word "Jaugust" to describe the intensity he has seen in the first two games of the series between his Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers.
The teams meet Sunday at Miller Park in the rubber match of a pivotal National League Central three-game series. The Brewers won 2-1 on Friday and the Cubs prevailed Saturday by the same score in 11 innings.
The Brewers, who led the division by 5 1/2 games heading into the All-Star break, now trail the Cubs by 1 1/2 games.
Milwaukee served as a worthy upstart for the first four months, leading the division nearly all of June and July. A 2-9 skid, paired with Chicago's torrid play out of the All-Star break, erased its advantage.
"Of course we'd like to win, but it's just about winning the series and moving forward," said Maddon, whose team is 12-3 since the All-Star break. The Brewers are 5-10 since the break and lost 10 of their last 13 games.
John Lackey will take the mound, and because Cubs used six relievers to nail down Saturday's victory, Maddon would love to see Lackey put up some innings.
Lackey's 7-9 record with a 4.97 ERA is well off his 11-8, 3.35 posting in 2016. He has shown some improvement of late, going 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in his three July starts. However, he has only lasted an average of 5 1/3 innings in those three games.
Lackey is 5-3 with a 3.49 ERA in 12 career starts against the Brewers.
Zach Davies (12-4, 4.45 ERA), on the other hand, has already set a career high in victories, although many were the result of generous run support. After producing a team-high 15 quality starts (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs) in 2016, Davies didn't post a six-inning start until his ninth outing of the season.
He appears to have turned that around. Davies is 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA in five July starts and hasn't allowed an earned run in his last two outings covering 14 2/3 innings.
More notable is the offensive support Davies garners. The Brewers are 14-7 when he starts, and the offense has averaged 6.05 runs in those 21 games.
Davies is 4-3 with a 4.62 ERA in seven career starts against the Cubs and 1-1, 5.73 in two starts this season.
While Davies has enjoyed strong run support through the season, the Brewers have struggled with the sticks of late. They've scored only five runs in the last three games and 12 in a six-game losing streak from July 16 to July 21.
As has often been the case, when the Brewers don't hit home runs, they don't score very often.
"Expecting two-out hits every night to score runs, we have to do a little better than that," manager Craig Counsell said.
As for the Cubs, a little distance between them and the pesky Brewers would be nice.
"Every game is important right now," Cubs outfielder John Jay said. "That's just the attitude we have, one game at a time. We have a chance to win the series. It doesn't matter who we're playing. Just trying to win series and trying to win ballgames."