Chicago Cubs

Cubs-Brewers rivalry ready to boil over: ‘They want to establish their turf, we don’t want to give ours up’

Cubs-Brewers rivalry ready to boil over: ‘They want to establish their turf, we don’t want to give ours up’

PITTSBURGH – There are so many elements in place for this rivalry to boil over, from the 90 miles separating the two cities, to the David vs. Goliath storyline, to all the young stars who should be here for years to come, to Ryan Braun playing the villain and still getting booed at Wrigley Field.

There have also been enough petty behind-the-scenes disputes, like the Milwaukee Brewers protesting the Cubs using their clout to change Friday’s game from 1:20 to 7:05 p.m. after complaining about a May rainout on what turned out to be a beautiful afternoon in Chicago.

By late Thursday night, the Brewers had fallen to five games behind the Cubs in the National League Central, same as the St. Louis Cardinals, taking some of the juice out of this weekend. But the Cubs will still look out at the Brewers during the first Friday night regular-season game in Wrigley Field history and see what they used to be.

“Flash back to ’12 and ’13 when we were there,” said Anthony Rizzo, who grew up into a face-of-the-franchise first baseman after those rebuilding years where the Cubs lost 197 games. “We’d go and play the Cardinals and beat them two out of three or something. The Brewers were very good then. We wanted to be with them.

“I see that with them (now). They’re a young team doing really good things this year and want to prove themselves, every single game, every single day.”

Imagine if the Cubs had failed in their lobbying efforts with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Tom Tunney and didn’t get the “one-time exemption” from the city ordinance. The Cubs sat through a no-warning, 52-minute rain delay at PNC Park, played through flash storms and then changed into NFL jerseys for the flight back to Chicago after an 8-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates ended at 11:10 p.m.

The Brewers have lined up their top three starters for this weekend – Jimmy Nelson (11-6, 3.59 ERA), Chase Anderson (8-3, 3.06 ERA) and Zach Davies (16-8, 3.77 ERA) – and should be playing with the urgency Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked about after taking this job, drawing upon his experience with the Tampa Bay Rays.

“You have to take things,” Maddon said. “Things aren’t given to you. I’ve always felt that way. Back in the day there with the AL East, you had to do that. They’re not going to give you anything. You got to go take it. And I’m sure that the Brewers feel the same way, no question.”

The Cubs are no longer mostly about selling sunshine and beer and cutting corners with their on-field product. Entering Wrigley Field should now feel the same way it did for the upstart Rays going into Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

“Just don’t take anything for granted,” Maddon said. “Don’t think because you’ve done this and they haven’t that you got it (made). I’m always concerned about just the mental approach, meaning, again, ‘Oh, we’ve done this before. They haven’t. We’re more experienced at this than they are – we kind of got it.’ I would never want my group to think that way. And our group doesn’t.

“Just as they want to establish their turf, we don’t want to give ours up, either.”

Throughout the first two years of his $155 million megadeal, Jon Lester repeatedly answered questions about learning how to win and if the Cubs could finally do it. They have that edge in experience now, can play without 1908 hanging over their heads anymore and just outlasted Gerrit Cole and beat Jameson Taillon on back-to-back nights in Pittsburgh.

“The minute you think you’re in control is the minute you get bit in the rear end,” said Lester, who gave up one run across six innings in his second start since coming off the disabled list. “You’ve seen the ups and downs of the game. You can’t take anything for granted. We got to take each individual day and try to win that day. That’s all you can really worry about.”

Oh, and the Colorado Rockies have faded enough that it doesn’t look like a lock that the NL West will get three playoff teams now, putting the Cardinals and Brewers in the wild-card mix that made the 2015 Cubs and set the stage for a World Series run a year later.

“That’s how rivalries get going again,” Rizzo said. “A team that wasn’t supposed to be very good this year – (though) we knew how good (the Brewers) were because of their young talent – is doing things that are good for the game.”

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”