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Cubs hit skids against lowly Brewers; Cardinals up next

BY TONI GINNETTI

For the Sun-Times

Winning series is every team’s mantra. Keep winning the majority of each cluster of games, ‘‘and it really piles up by the middle of the season,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘And it gets that vibe going in the clubhouse.’’

Maddon’s Cubs had won two of their last three series and four of their first seven, something the team didn’t accomplish last season until June 7.

The Milwaukee Brewers, with the worst record in baseball, had only five victories and no series wins before coming to Wrigley Field. Yet they left with their first series win of the season after a 5-3 victory Sunday.

They might have swept the three games had it not been for Cubs rookie Addison Russell’s home run Friday in a 1-0 final.

‘‘They have some important pieces back,’’ Cubs starter Jason Hammel said of the injury-plagued Brewers, against whom he has a 5-0 career record, his best against any opponent. ‘‘It’s major-league baseball. You can’t keep a team down too long. We’ve all been through it, and we were able to come back and made a game of it. But to get to where we want to be, we have to win these games.’’

That was more the point as the Cubs fell to their National League Central rivals, who pitched well in the series and got timely hitting and defense from a player who always loved Wrigley, ex-Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

‘‘We’re not driving the ball like we can, but I still love the fight [in the team],’’ Maddon said. ‘‘We didn’t get it done, but I’ll take the effort.’’

He wouldn’t take back the eighth-inning decision to walk Adam Lind to load the bases and face Ramirez with two outs. That came after Pedro Strop got Ryan Braun to hit into a bases-loaded double play one batter earlier.

‘‘It was the right matchup,’’ Maddon said, despite Ramirez’s second-inning homer off Hammel. ‘‘It just didn’t go our way.’’

Strop already had overcome a worse danger two batters earlier when one of his pitches hit Jean Segura in the head as Segura squared to bunt with two men on. Segura was on the ground for several minutes with trainers from both teams tending to him before he rose and went to first. He was there only a few minutes before leaving the game.

‘‘Hopefully Jean will feel OK tomorrow,’’ Hammel said, recalling times he has hit batters inadvertently. ‘‘It’s not fun. It shook me up pretty good [when it had happened]. It’s scary.’’

Hammel helped his own cause with a sacrifice fly in the second — ‘‘We Cubs pitchers take our hitting seriously,’’ he said — and lasted into the seventh in a 3-3 tie before walking Ramirez to start the inning.

‘‘I was a little off today,’’ Hammel said. ‘‘I cracked a nail and was trying to avoid blisters. The feel wasn’t there. It was grind it out and try to keep it close.’’

Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson, a career 0-2 against the Cubs, was tough this time, going 6 ‰ innings (three runs, seven hits, six strikeouts). The Brewers’ bullpen was tough as well, not allowing a run in the series.

‘‘Some guys are struggling a little bit now, but you can’t get uptight,’’ Maddon said.

Not when the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals are next on the schedule.

‘‘To be the best, you have to beat the best,’’ Hammel said. ‘‘They’re hot, and we’re going to their territory. We’ll find out what we’re made of in this series.’’