Preview: Brewers vs. Cubs
MILWAUKEE — Two National League Most Valuable Player candidates will face off Tuesday night when Javier Baez and the Chicago Cubs continue their three-game series against Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
Baez made history over the weekend, became the first player in baseball history to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs in a season while playing at least 30 games at shortstop and 30 games at second base and the third player in the Cubs’ long history to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a single season.
Prior to his 1-for-4 showing with a run scored Monday at Milwaukee, Baez had hit 11 home runs and driven in 28 RBIs since the All-Star break, batting .315 with a .953 OPS during that 42-game stretch, with the Cubs winning 26 of those contests.
Yelich has also been red-hot since the break. He was batted .292 with an .823 OPS in the first half but has thrust himself into the MVP conversation over the last six weeks by posting a .360 average, .412 on-base percentage, .744 slugging percentage for a blistering 1.156 OPS along with 16 home runs and 38 RBIs as the Brewers try to keep the pressure on Chicago, while holding off a handful of squads looking to snatch away a wild card spot.
He put the finishing touch on Milwaukee’s dramatic finish Monday, driving home the winning run by grounding into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth giving the Brewers their 10th walk-off victory of the season.
“He’s good,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Yelich. “He was good in Miami and when they acquired him and (Lorenzo) Cain, I didn’t like it. Those are two really good baseball players. So, I like what Milwaukee has done in regards to both bolstering their lineup and depth because their bench is fabulous. They’ve done a really good job with that, and those two guys at the top, they’re good.”
Both players have garnered attention by virtue of spectacular offensive numbers Maddon’s counterpart, Brewers skipper Craig Counsell, thinks their defensive ability is worthy of consideration, too.
“What I think is pretty cool is they’re both guys who play multiple positions,” Counsell said. “That says something about what they bring to the table defensively. You rarely say that about the MVP.”
With their Monday victory, the Brewers return to action Tuesday just four games back of Chicago in the division race and 11/2 games up on the Cardinals for the top NL Wild Card spot. While the Brewers have struggled against their rivals — they lost eight of the first nine meetings and are 5-8 against Chicago overall this season — almost all the meetings have been extremely close affairs, even dating back to a pivotal four-game series in Milwaukee last September.
“For some reason, in the games we play against the Cubs, it doesn’t matter how it starts out it’s going to finish something like that,” Counsell said, referring to Monday’s ninth-inning comeback. “It’s been pretty consistent. You better make sure you have a ticket because that’s how the games have finished pretty routinely. Not just the September games, a lot of the games here against this team. It was a fun baseball game. They might not be saying the same thing, but it was a game with some great plays and a lot of individual efforts.”
Left-hander Wade Miley gets tasked with keeping Baez in check on Tuesday. Miley is coming off his best outing of the season after holding the Reds to a run while scattering five hits and striking out six over 7 ? innings of work last week at Cincinnati.
Miley is 4-2 with a 4.47 ERA in seven career starts against the Cubs, who counter with a left-hander of their own in Mike Montgomery.
Making his first start since coming off the disabled list for a shoulder injury, Montgomery was knocked around by the Braves in his last outing. He struck out six but allowed four runs on eight hits and a walk and was unable to get through the fifth inning.
Montgomery has bounced back and forth between Chicago’s rotation and bullpen this season and is 4-3 with a 3.38 ERA in 14 starts.
He’s faced Milwaukee once this season and took the loss on June 13 despite allowing only a run over six innings of work.