Brewers leave Cubs in the dust, and that’s more than a little fun for them
The Brewers are more concerned about the Reds — four games back — than the Cubs. They know the rivalry has tipped their way, possibly in a big way.
DENVER — Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff was sitting by his lonesome at an interview table Monday when a reporter ambled up, said hello and shared that he’d come from Chicago.
“You waiting for a reaction, man?” Woodruff said.
Sure, he heard back. The bigger the reaction, the better.
“No, I’m just kidding,” he said. “But you know the Cubs are our rivals. What’s up?”
The Brewers are what’s up. The Cubs are what’s down. Eight games separate the teams in the National League Central, thanks in no small part to the Brewers beating the daylights out of the Cubs to the tune of a 9-3 head-to-head season record.
If one day encapsulated the rampant ugliness, it was the finale of the teams’ last series, a three-game Brewers sweep in Milwaukee. The Cubs scored seven runs in the first inning. The Brewers scored the next 15. Final series score: 31-12.
“Yeah, that was a fun one,” Woodruff said.
That 15-7 debacle pushed a Brewers winning streak to eight games on the way to 11. It left the Cubs with a losing streak of six games on the way to 11.
For the Cubs, it was the ultimate wheels-off display. The whole shebang — 11 straight losses — probably was a season ender.
“I mean, it was very exciting,” said Brewers catcher Omar Narvaez, like Woodruff — and rotation mates Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta — an All-Star. “First of all, every time we play the Cubs, it’s an exciting series. But it was even more exciting when we beat them and we swept them.”
Understand this: The Brewers are more concerned about the Reds — four games back — than the Cubs. They know there’s blood in the water where the Cubs’ roster is concerned. They know the rivalry has tipped their way, possibly in a big way.
Not that they’re stomping on graves.
“Ever since I’ve been called up in 2017, it’s always been that same group,” Woodruff said. “[Anthony] Rizzo, [Javy] Baez, [Kris] Bryant, [Kyle] Schwarber before he went to the Nationals, Willson [Contreras]. It’s been the same group over and over. It would be weird to look out and not see that core group you’ve seen so much.”
The Brewers feed off the Cubs in a manner that maybe isn’t felt as fully in reverse. The Cubs core has won a World Series. The Cubs core is far more famous than the dudes 80 miles up the road. But the Brewers have held their own head-to-head for a while now, and speaking of heads: The Brewers have crawled all the way into the Cubs’.
“When you’re not winning and things aren’t going your way — not only when you’re not winning, but the other team you’re competing with is winning at the same time — it just compounds everything,” Bryant said. “It’s just super frustrating.”
As the second half begins, is there any real chance the Cubs — facing enormous trade-deadline pressure — will chip away at their division deficit and catch all the way up?
It seems impossible. Woodruff has owned the Cubs in his career, holding hitters to a .180 average. In four starts against them this season, his ERA is 0.72. Against all teams, Brewers starting pitchers have a 3.23 ERA and 1.10 WHIP — trailing only the Dodgers, Mets and Giants, in that order, on both counts in the NL — to the Cubs’ 4.72 and 1.38. The Cubs are in bottom-of-the-barrel territory, their rotation better than only the Pirates’ and the Diamondbacks’.
The Cubs have a slight bullpen edge and, so far, a slight edge at the plate. Against opponents other than the Brewers, that is.
“You never know,” Woodruff said, “we can come out in the second half and be hot as a pistol or we can be cool. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But the way we’ve been playing, I think we feel good about what’s going to happen in the second half.”