The Chicago Cubs began a seven-game road trip by missing out on a chance to gain ground on the NL Central leaders. As a result, they’re now closer to the bottom of the division than the top.
A three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers could either fix that or further expose the slumping Cubs, and it begins Friday night with a rematch of a pitching matchup from less than a week ago.
After Thursday’s 5-1 loss in St. Louis, the Cubs (14-13) are in danger of falling back to .500 for the first time since they were 2-2. They’ve dropped six of eight after losing three of four in St. Louis, are 6 1/2 games back of the Cardinals and six up on the last-place Brewers (9-20).
Thursday’s loss included 12 strikeouts, and the Cubs’ 263 for the season are an NL high. They’re batting .209 with runners in scoring position in the last eight and leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler is 2 for 23 in his last six.
"I have zero concerns," manager Joe Maddon said. "The hitters will start figuring some of this stuff out as they get more ABs. I could not be happier with them as a group."
On the mound, Chicago has posted a 5.35 ERA in those eight games after having a 3.49 mark during its 12-7 start, but Milwaukee’s lineup isn’t stirring up much fear.
The Brewers had won two of three under new manager Craig Counsell before Thursday’s 14-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers clued him in on what it’s been like in the Milwaukee dugout for much of the season.
Adam Lind homered for the second straight day and is batting .400 with five homers in the past 14 games, but the rest of the lineup has done little. After hitting .227 in April, the Brewers are off to a .211 start in May and settled for a split against the Dodgers.
Jason Hammel and Jimmy Nelson met in Sunday’s 5-3 Milwaukee win in Chicago, though neither recorded a decision. The Brewers took two of three in that series, though the Cubs have won eight of 12 against their neighbors to the north.
Hammel (2-1, 3.73 ERA), whose 0.57 walks per nine innings and 13.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio trail only Bartolo Colon, yielded three runs in six innings after pitching 14 scoreless against Milwaukee last season in two starts, both at Miller Park.
He’s 5-0 with a 2.20 ERA in seven career starts against the Brewers. Gerardo Parra is 8 for 22 in their matchups, and Lind is 6 for 20 with two home runs.
Nelson (1-2, 4.03), the Brewers’ only starter with fewer than four losses, surrendered three runs in 6 2-3 innings. All of his starts this season have come in pairs against NL Central opponents, and familiarity is siding against him. His first times facing Pittsburgh and Cincinnati resulted in one earned run allowed over 15 innings. The second times accounted for both of his losses with nine earned in 7 1-3.
"(My stuff) will still be fresh in their mind, but our hitters are also facing a guy they just saw five days ago," Nelson told MLB’s official website.
He’s 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA in three starts against the Cubs. Chris Coghlan and Jorge Soler are both 4 for 9 off Nelson with six extra-base hits.
Anthony Rizzo is batting .419 with a 1.468 OPS during a nine-game hitting streak against the Brewers.