MILWAUKEE – Quick, somebody get this road trip to San Francisco and St. Louis before the Cubs lose their early mojo.
The team with the best record in baseball stubbed another toe against another door-jamb team Tuesday, nearly getting no-hit by a struggling pitcher in a 4-2 loss to open a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers.
It was just the kind of thing manager Joe Maddon was talking about before the game when he expressed his greater fear of also-rans than big-shot contenders.
“Teams that are struggling a bit, they’re the teams that worry me even more,” he said, “because when you’re playing a better team, then that’s going to bring out the best in them, also.”
Case in point: Chase Anderson.
The 28-year-old right-hander with the 6.11 ERA, making his first career start against the Cubs, retired the first 16 he faced. And after he walked Miguel Montero in the sixth to spoil the perfect-game bid, he carried the no-hitter into the eighth before Ben Zobrist led off the inning with a double to the center field wall.
Anderson came within an out of finishing a one-hitter, before Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant hit back-to-back homers with two out in the ninth. It was Heyward’s first home run as a Cub.
Despite the final-out heroics, it was the Cubs’ third loss in their last four games against losing teams – with a series win against contender Pittsburgh between those series against the San Diego Padres and the Brewers.
“When we play anybody right now, outside of the teams that already have targets on their backs, we’re going to see that kind of performance,” Maddon said.
In fact, the Cubs are 11-2 against their top three opponents so far: the Nationals (4-0), Pirates (5-1) and Cardinals (2-1).
Not that they’re getting creamed by everyone else, but the 16-8 mark against the also-rans is conspicuous for the difference.
“I’ve always been concerned about that,” Maddon said, “that we take care of business against everybody. Don’t apply any more weight to any particular game. They should all weigh the same.
“I know we’ve played well against the Pirates, Washington, whatever. But this game tonight, at the end of the year counts for one. And you’ve got to apply the same amount of weight and energy. The threat is that the other team’s going to apply more, so you’ve got to just be ready to play. You cannot just show up.”
Said Cubs starter Kyle Hendreicks: “Maybe we just need to put in our minds against these other teams that they’re coming for us no matter what, no matter who we got out there.”
Despite the loss Tuesday, Kyle Hendricks pitched into the sixth inning as the Cubs’ rotation extended its streak to 45 consecutive games with at least five innings pitched – its longest streak in at least 106 years.
Until a messy sixth that knocked him out of the game, Hendricks allowed only one run, on Jonathan Lucroy’s on-out homer in the fourth.
Until then, the Brewers’ only hit was an infield single by Aaron Hill in the third.
Hendricks’ undoing in the sixth started with a leadoff walk to Jonathan Villar, followed by a Scooter Gennett single and Ryan Braun run-scoring single. After a popup for the first out, Chris Carter drove home two more with a double to the gap in right.
Anderson (2-2) struck out six and walked just Montero before exiting after the ninth-inning homers.
“He was pretty impressive,” Hendricks said of Anderson. “I watched a little bit of the end of it in [the clubhouse]. He was hitting his spots, mixing speeds well, more of what I needed to do today, honestly.”
Note: Outfielder Matt Szczur (hamstring), who is eligible to return from the disabled list Wednesday, is close to starting what’s expected to be a brief minor-league rehab assignment, Maddon said.