W: Zach Davies (1-0)
L: Kyle Hendricks (0-2)
SV: Josh Hader (5)
HR: MIL - Christian Yelich (5), CHC - Willson Contreras (3)
After two days of slugfests, this was a pretty welcome sight.
The Brewers only needed three pitchers to beat the Cubs, 4-2, with Zach Davies turning in one of the best starts from a Brewers pitcher so far this year and Josh Hader picking up the final 8 outs of the game for his 5th save of the young season.
Davies gave up a leadoff single to Ben Zobrist on a dribbler that somehow snuck through the infield to start the game, and it felt like it might be another baserunner-heavy game between these two teams. Instead, Davies wound up retiring the next 9 batters in a row.
He also got an early lead, thanks to Lorenzo Cain staying hot against the Cubs with a leadoff single of his own, and Christian Yelich jumping on a first-pitch fastball from Kyle Hendricks for a tape measure 2-run home run. The blast was Yelich’s 5th of the year and 100th of his career.
The Brewers would add another run in the 3rd inning thanks to the work of Cain and Yelich, whose back-to-back singles put runners on the corners with nobody out. Travis Shaw banged an RBI single through the shift to make it 3-0.
Another run would come an inning later when the Brewers were able to load the bases with one out for Yelich, who was able to collect his third RBI of the day with a sacrifice fly to deep right center that narrowly missed being a grand slam.
Meanwhile, Davies almost effortlessly continued to cruise through a Cubs lineup that had scored 24 runs the past two days. Through 5 innings, only two Cubs reached second base as his fastball command was on point and changeup kept the Cubs off-balance for most of the afternoon.
Davies didn’t run into trouble until the 6th inning, and much of it wasn’t his own doing. Anthony Rizzo led off the inning by getting on base on an Eric Thames error, when Rizzo lined one down the first base line that Thames appeared to think was foul before errantly trying to backhand flip the ball to Davies covering at first, even though he had plenty of time to make a more conventional toss. Javier Baez followed with a swinging bunt of an infield hit that completely died on the infield grass before Shaw could get to the ball, putting two men on with nobody out.
Davies was able to bear down, though, and get a huge 5-6-3 double play thanks to a fearless turn by Orlando Arcia with Baez barreling into second base. Despite that, he couldn’t get the final out of the inning, surrendering a 2-run home run to Willson Contreras on a pitch that was barely a strike to make the score 4-2.
While he gave up the home run, those runs were considered unearned due to Thames’ error, meaning Davies left after 5.2 innings with no earned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks, with 1 strikeout.
Alex Claudio came on in relief and got out of the 6th inning, but ran into trouble when he was brought back out for the 7th inning, getting just one more out and allowing two baserunners with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo coming up, forcing Craig Counsell to turn to Hader about an inning earlier than he likely would have liked to.
Not having pitched since Tuesday, Hader was electric on his 25th birthday. He got Bryant to pop out harmlessly, then struck out Rizzo on a 3-2 fastball after a high-stress battle.
Rizzo may have been thinking about the slider — which Hader has rarely used this year — he saw earlier in the at-bat. The great Pitching Ninja shows us just how filthy Hader was in that at-bat:
Josh Hader, 97mph Fastball and 83mph Slider, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/cSbsWjtwll— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 7, 2019
That was the only time Hader was truly tested during the course of the final 8 outs. He picked up two more strikeouts in the next two innings, with the remaining outs coming on two flyouts in the 8th and two groundouts to close the 9th.
This was, once again, an example of Craig Counsell going for the throat when he had a chance to secure a big win that could end up carrying much more meaning in September than it does at the moment. Hader will likely be unavailable for the first game (or even two) in Anaheim, but nearly the rest of the bullpen will be fully rested heading into the next week in the Los Angeles area.
Your Brewers are now 8-2 on the year, winners of each of their first three series of the year, 5.5 games up on the Cubs in the standings (and yes, April standings don’t mean much, but that’s still a gap that will have to be made up). As ugly as the weekend was at times, the Brewers stumbled out of the heavyweight fight a little battered but with 2 wins in 3 games.
Next the Brewers are off to Orange County for a three-game set against the Angels. Get your night coffee ready -- first pitch on Monday is at 9:07 p.m. CDT.