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.”