MILWAUKEE — It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Cubs baseball, that is.
The Cubs were supposed to be more like the Brewers. Come to think of it, they were supposed to be better than the Brewers. Market sizes, franchise values, ballparks — shouldn’t the Cubs always be better than the Brewers?
But no. Here we are. Instead, Brewers $215 million man Christian Yelich is leaning back into his locker and waxing nostalgic about how sneaky-great his team’s rivalry with the Cubs recently was, which is another way of saying it isn’t anymore.
‘‘When you’d think of the Cubs, you would think [Anthony] Rizzo, [Kris] Bryant, [Javy] Baez, [Willson] Contreras, [Jon] Lester, [Kyle] Hendricks, [Jose] Quintana,‘’ Yelich says. ‘‘We’d roll our guys out, they’d roll their guys out, we’d sweep them sometimes, they’d sweep us sometimes, we’d split, we’d have good battles, there’d be extra-inning games. It was just a lot of fun, man — a lot of fun.’’
Those Cubs were Rizzo’s teams. Someone else might disagree with that assessment, but Brewers outfielder Andrew McCutchen — who played nine seasons with the Pirates, through 2017, and is on team No. 4 since — remembers it that way clearly.
‘‘Rizzo was the guy,’’ he says. ‘‘Rizzo more than Bryant, more than Baez, more than any other guy that came through. He was the heartbeat of the team. He was — and I’m sure, to a lot of fans, still is — a Cub.’’
But there was no romance in the end for Rizzo, just as there hadn’t been for McCutchen with the Pirates. Rizzo got shipped out with Bryant and Baez, like Yu Darvish was before them and like Contreras and Hendricks — the starter Tuesday against the National League Central-leading Brewers — soon might be. McCutchen, a five-time All-Star with the team that drafted him in 2005, died on the vine in Pittsburgh after a winning thing there was blown up.
‘‘We had really good teams from 2013 to 2015, and nothing after that,’’ McCutchen says. ‘‘I asked myself for years: ‘What happened? Why didn’t we build off it? Why didn’t we go grab a big name?’ You ask all those questions, but you’re not going to get answers you’re looking for.
‘‘Am I surprised the Cubs are rebuilding? No, because the game’s not as loyal as it used to be. It’s just not. There’s no loyalty. There ain’t one person I played with over there at the Pirates, and [soon] there won’t be one person Rizzo played with over there at the Cubs.’’
But maybe, just maybe, the Brewers are different than that. And if they aren’t necessarily more loyal than the next organization — than the Cubs — then they’re certainly more wise. How can one not feel that way about a team in this modest market that’s pointed toward its franchise-record fifth consecutive postseason appearance? And there are no signs — zero — that a winning window will be slammed before the streak reaches six years or seven. Ride the postseason lightning to a World Series title one of these times, and president of baseball operations David Stearns and the Brewers will be able to make the claim they surpassed what the filthy-rich Cubs of 2015 to 2020 accomplished.
In some ways, they already have. They have Yelich on a long-term extension, starter Freddy Peralta on a club-friendly deal, starters Corbin Burns and Brandon Woodruff not going anywhere. Will they pony up to extend lefty reliever Josh Hader? Around here, that’s as stressful a question as there is.
‘‘I do expect [the winning] to continue, yeah,’’ manager Craig Counsell says. ‘‘I don’t think I can say it any other way. I think we’ve got a good team. I think we’ve got young players. There’s always challenges with the way the game works, but our front office has done a great job of kind of managing that process.’’
Counsell himself, in his eighth season and signed through 2023, already is the longest-tenured manager in the National League and the winningest one in franchise history. The Brewers are more likely to erect a statue of him than they are to dead-man-walk him out of town, as the Cubs did with Joe Maddon.
The Brewers beat the daylights out of the Cubs in 2021 — the year the Cubs officially capitulated — going 15-4 and winning all six series head-to-head. They haven’t been as dominant against the Cubs this season, but there’s not an ounce of drama or suspense in terms of the standings. At present, it’s a rivalry in name only.
And speaking of names, did you catch the one belonging to the Brewers’ starting pitcher Tuesday? It’s Jason Alexander, who went seven innings against the Cubs in his major-league debut June 1 at Wrigley Field. An old ‘‘Seinfeld’’ fan with limited range to his sense of humor couldn’t resist placing a couple of the character George Costanza’s greatest lines in the Cubs-Brewers context.
‘‘It’s not you, it’s me,’’ the Brewers might as well have said before leaving the rebuilding Cubs behind.
And as for the Cubs not wanting to use the word ‘‘rebuild,’’ not wanting to admit the truth that a monster-market team with every advantage under the sun always should be better than this?
As George hilariously, pathetically put it: ‘‘It’s not a lie if you believe it.’’