MILWAUKEE – It’s nice that the Cubs like their dugout vibe again – except when John Lackey bumps into Anthony Rizzo – and Jose Quintana comes with three additional years of club control and Jake Arrieta says: “We expect to remain in first place.”
But after making it this far – ahead of schedule in a long rebuilding project – the Milwaukee Brewers are not at all conceding the National League Central.
The Cubs experienced a playoff-like environment in late July during Friday night’s 2-1 loss in front of a sellout crowd at Miller Park. Every year is different, the Cubs kept saying during all their stops and starts in the first half, and these next 60 games should feel like a real pennant race, not the cruise-control settings from last season.
How will the Brewers counter the Quintana move? Well, Harvard guy Brent Suter, a 31st-round pick from the 2012 draft, outpitched Quintana, a player the Brewers targeted and discussed in depth with the White Sox before Theo Epstein made his blockbuster deal during the All-Star break.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon sees an American League East-style lineup stocked with patient, powerful hitters, one that has kept the Brewers (55-50) within a half-game of first place, even after last week’s six-game losing streak.
Milwaukee also has an aggressive, involved owner (Mark Attanasio), a 30-something, Ivy League general manager (David Stearns), a top-10 farm system and the reality that chances like this don’t come around that often for small-market franchises with the July 31 trade deadline looming.
“You’re looking at what everybody else is doing,” Maddon said. “We’ve already been proactively in front of some other groups by getting that done. So now anything we can do on top of that in a positive vein, absolutely, is going to benefit us. I don’t doubt that the Brewers are probably going to do something.
“But at the end of the day, we just got to worry about what we’re doing. I think it’s going to be hard to duplicate what we’ve already done in regards to getting Quintana.”
So much about his new existence is different, but Quintana has seen this movie so many times before with the White Sox, a tough-luck loss where he only gave up two runs in six innings. Jason Heyward also bailed out Quintana in the third inning with a spectacular leaping catch at the right-field wall to take a two-run homer away from Ryan Braun.
“It was a battle,” said Quintana, who is 2-1 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts for the defending World Series champs. “Every game counts. I’m really happy to feel that atmosphere every night when I go to the mound. It was a tough night for me, and we’ll come back tomorrow.”
After Suter limited the Cubs to four singles and a walk during seven scoreless innings, Javier Baez generated all the offense with a John Daly swing. Baez drove a pitch from Anthony Swarzak – the reliever making his Brewer debut after getting traded from the White Sox – off a stadium club window above the second deck in left field.
Baez admired his shot, stared out at the field and spit out a sunflower seed as he slowly began his home-run trot. Part of the crowd of 42,574 started chanting: “Let’s go, Cubbies!” The day before on the South Side, Maddon listened to a question about Arrieta’s prediction and talked about “baseball karma,” saying it’s “out there” and “it’s going to come back and bite you.”
“Milwaukee is not going anywhere,” Maddon said. “I don’t take anything for granted, man. I really approach the day the same all the time. My experience tells me that. If you are not doing that – if you start getting full of yourself and believe in whatever – it’s going to go away real quickly.
“There’s nothing wrong with saying: ‘I feel it. I like where we’re at. I like the way the guys are reacting. I like the energy.’ Those are all good thoughts, good words. But when you start getting full of yourself and thinking it’s going to come easily – that’s the trap.”
Whether or not the Cubs and/or Brewers make a splash on July 31, these two teams will clash nine more times within the next two months.
“It will be cool,” said Kyle Schwarber, who struck out swinging at Corey Knebel’s 97-mph fastball with a runner on third base to end this game. “We’re going to be playing our baseball. We can’t be worried about whatever the division is. We got to worry about ourselves and play our game and go from there.”