Cubs beat Brewers at their best, make up ground in division race

The Cubs won two out of three games against NL Central-leading Milwaukee this week.

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The ball hit Cubs first baseman Cody Bellinger’s mitt, and second baseman Nico Hoerner brandished his fist in celebration.

On their way to a 3-2 win, the Cubs had just turned a seamless double play to move one out away from a series victory against the Brewers.

“It was a huge play,” Bellinger said after the game. “It was a hard-hit ball, and Nico just made it really easy on a good throw, and Dansby as well with the turn. Really good play.”

The Cubs had little margin for error in the three-game series against the Brewers, who were coming off an eight-game winning streak, and two of the three games were decided by a run. Those are the kinds of games in which the NL Central leaders, who are 27-13 in one-run contests, have excelled.

The knock against the Cubs has been that though they have by far the best run differential (+76) in the division, they struggled early in the year closing out tight games.

This week, they won both one-run games against the Brewers to claim the series victory and now are three behind them in the standings. And they did so against the Brewers’ best pitchers, Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.

The Cubs are 17-6 in one-run games since late May.

“That’s what this team has done,” manager David Ross said Wednesday. “They’ve found a way to win for a while now. Scratching, clawing, overcoming adversity. [Against] good teams, bad teams, coming back late in games, tying things up.”

That’s what they did Wednesday.

“We knew coming in it was going to be a big series,” said starter Kyle Hendricks, who held the Brewers to one earned run in six innings. “A little more energy, a little more tension from the outside, but we were able to stay locked in and just keep it pitch to pitch.”

The Cubs opened with a two-run lead in the first inning, taking advantage of the two free bases — a walk and hit by pitch — Woodruff gave them to start the inning. The Cubs scored on an RBI double from Ian Happ and a sacrifice fly from Dansby Swanson.

The Brewers got one of those runs back in the third inning, after Christian Yelich reached on Hendricks’ throwing error. Then, William Contreras tagged a single down the right-field line to drive in Yelich.

The Cubs got out of the inning with a diving play by Hoerner. The sharp comebacker flew in between Hendricks’ legs, but Hoerner laid out to make the stop and hopped up quickly to throw to first. Bellinger made a pick at first to complete the play.

The Cubs’ 2-1 advantage held until the eighth inning. All three of the Cubs’ back-end relievers were on the second day of a back-to-back after completing a shutout the night before. Julian Merryweather retired four straight, but with two outs in the eighth inning, Mark Leiter Jr. loaded the bases. Closer Adbert Alzolay came in to get the final out, but not before hitting Mark Canha with a pitch to push the Brewers’ tying run across the plate.

The Cubs’ offense responded in the bottom half. With two outs and runners on first and third, Bellinger chopped a hard ground ball back at Brewers reliever Joel Payamps. He deflected it, and Bellinger beat out third baseman Andruw Monasterio’s throw to first as Mike Tauchman scored from third.

“You’ve seen the last few days, everyone picking each other up, making plays for each other, going out there and giving everything” said Alzolay, who closed it out and was credited with the win. “[It] tells you the resilience that this team all has right now.”

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