Whether it’s because they’re a better team, psychological, or just dumb luck, the Chicago Cubs have had the Brewers’ number to start this season. The Brewers have banked more wins so far — 39 — than anyone in the National League, but have gone 1-7 against their rivals to the south.
Those first 8 games have included a walkoff loss by one run, two other losses by one run, and another loss by 2 runs. Also included in those 7 losses are 5 shutouts. In the type of analysis you can only get here at Brew Crew Ball, you can’t win if you score zero runs.
The last time we saw the Cubs, they were off to another sleepwalking start, sitting at 11-10 before their four-game sweep of the Brewers at the end of April. After a middling 14-13 May, the Cubs have gotten off to a scorching 7-2 start in June that has allowed them to close the gap between the two teams to just a half-game.
Their offense has turned out to be as good as advertised, ranking 7th in runs scored (3rd in the NL), 3rd in batting and first in on-base percentage. Five regulars — Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez — have OPSes north of .800, and Anthony Rizzo (.778 OPS despite 10 home runs) isn’t far off.
But it’s the pitching that’s allowed the Cubs to surge recently. The bullpen especially has been tough to get to, with Brandon Morrow racking up 15 saves while striking out 23 in 21.2 innings. Carl Edwards Jr. has 9 holds and a 2.88 ERA, while Steve Cishek (7 holds, 1.88 ERA), Pedro Strop (5 holds, 2.03 ERA) and Justin Wilson (5 holds, 2.36 ERA) have also been extremely good. The reason why the Brewers and Cubs have played so many tight, low-scoring games is because these two teams may have the two best bullpens in the National League.
The Brewers don’t necessarily need to beat the Cubs consistently to contend -- their performance so far this year proves that -- but it might be good for everyone’s sanity if they could find a way to take 2 of 3. After this week, the Brewers won’t see the Cubs again until a two-game set in August, but two potentially big series loom in September.
Monday - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Jose Quintana vs. Junior Guerra
Tuesday - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Tyler Chatwood vs. Chase Anderson
Wednesday - 1:10 p.m. CDT
Mike Montgomery vs. Jhoulys Chacin
Quintana hasn’t allowed a run in 13 innings against the Brewers this year, allowing just 5 hits and striking out 13 batters in two starts. Against everyone else, he’s allowed 30 runs in 51.1 innings — good for a 5.28 ERA. That means his two starts against the Brewers have shaved more than a full run off his ERA, and that dominance of the Brewers goes back to last season, too. Quintana is coming off a good start against the Phillies, when he struck out 10 and allowed just 2 runs in 5.2 innings.
Chatwood was a popular under-the-radar free agent pitcher this past winter, and when the Cubs swooped in to sign him it was supposed to be another example of Theo Epstein out-smarting everyone. While Chatwood’s ERA has dropped since leaving the Rockies and Coors Field, there’s a legitimate argument that it’s been a fluke thus far, with his 4.98 FIP more than a run higher than his 3.86 ERA. Through 12 starts, Chatwood was walked more batters than he’s struck out, issuing a league-leading 56 walks in 58.1 innings.
Montgomery recently returned to the Cubs’ rotation after spending the first two months in the bullpen, replacing the injured Yu Darvish. In his first three starts, he’s allowed just 2 runs in 17.2 innings, striking out 10 and walking 2 while holding opponents to a .177/.212/.242 line. He made two starts against the Brewers last season and neither went well for the Cubs -- he allowed 7 earned runs in 2.1 innings last July 6th in a game the Brewers won 11-2, then allowed 4 runs in a 2-inning start in September in what turned out to be a 15-2 Brewers win.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference