As much as Cubs fans are quick to say that Chicago handed Milwaukee the division, the Brewers deserve all the credit in the world.
The Cubs may have had a five-game division lead on September 3, but it is not as if Chicago played all that poorly from there on out. Milwaukee just played really, really well.
The Cubs went 14-11 in their final 25 games before suffering a close loss in game 163 against Milwaukee at home, 3-1. The Brewers, on the other hand, went 18-6 before the tiebreaker game and were easily the best team in the NL during September.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) October 1, 2018
Letting a third consecutive division crown slip from Chicago’s hands is definitely frustrating from a fan’s perspective. Changes need to be made next season, specifically hitting wise. However, the season is not over.
The Cubs will have a chance to redeem themselves when they host the Wild Card game against either Colorado on tonight. Jon Lester, who will be on the mound for Chicago, is one of the best postseason pitchers currently MLB history. So, there are reasons to be optimistic. Big Jon has a career ERA of 2.55 in the playoffs over 148 innings.
With that being said, it is more than realistic that Chicago will have the opportunity to make the NLDS and square up with the Brewers once again (knock on wood). If this is the case, needing five games to decide the outcome of the series is extremely likely.
Milwaukee has the upper-hand right now in terms of momentum. Its bullpen has established itself as the best in the NL, giving the franchise a shot to make its first World Series since 1982.
Despite the Brewers having won five of the last seven meetings between the two teams, Chicago won the regular season series 11-9. The Cubs would undoubtedly be tough for Milwaukee to handle in a five-game series. Saying the Cubs will be hungry to beat the Brewers is an understatement.
If Chicago wants to advance past the Wild Card game and then go on to beat Milwaukee, it’s top priority is getting the bats going. We are all aware of how injuries to Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop have negatively impacted the bullpen. But, frankly, the pen has performed just fine since. Strop may also be returning in the near future, which would give the Cubs an official postseason closer.
The pen has performed to a satisfactory level in spite of an added level of pressure tacked on as a result of little offensive production. So, if the Cubs can pick it up offensively, Chicago’s relievers may be able to perform even better considering their margin for error will be greater.
The Cubs have scored one or fewer runs in 39 games this season. September was the epitome of Chicago’s offensive struggles as well. The Brewers’ back-end trio of Knebel, Hader, and Jeffress advantageously shorten every game for Milwaukee if it can hold a lead through six innings.
To beat the Brewers, the Cubs will need to jump on Milwaukee’s starters every game. This didn’t happen in the tie-breaker. Jhoulys Chacin allowed only one run of 5 ⅔ innings and that was all the Brewers needed from their starter.
The previously mentioned trio of relievers dominated Chicago on Monday. This is no surprise, they have done so consistently this season. Knebel has a 2.57 ERA against the Cubs in seven outings.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 1, 2018
Other than allowing a home run to Anthony Rizzo, Hader has blown through Chicago’s lineup. The reliever is averaging just about two strikeouts per inning against the Cubs. In addition, Jeffress has allowed only one run over eight innings against Chicago this season.
To reiterate, getting to Milwaukee’s starting staff is what the Cubs will need to do. And that’s possible. When Chicago isn’t slumping overall offensively, this is something it is very capable of doing.
The Brewers’ NLDS pitching rotation will probably consist of Chacin, Chase Anderson, Wade Miley, and Gio Gonzalez.
Unfortunately, Anderson has dominated Chicago more than any other team this season. The righty has a 1.13 ERA in four 2018 starts against the Cubs. But, there is no reason why Chicago can’t eventually string something together against the five-year starter.
Anderson’s overall ERA is 3.93, which is pretty average. Anderson’s last outing against the Reds, in which he tossed 3 ⅔ innings and allowed three runs, was far from impressive. If Cincinnati can do it, the Cubs can.
Gio Gonzalez has been really good since Milwaukee acquired him and has also been exceptional against Chicago over his lengthy career. But, the Cubs have faced Gio a lot and know what it takes to hit him.
Gonzalez was horrendous before the Brewers picked him up. The veteran pitched to a 7.47 ERA in August and had an 8.44 ERA in June.
It’s evident that when Gonzalez has lost his touch this season, things have gotten out of hand. Losing his touch is something that Gonzalez is notorious for in the playoffs. In six playoff starts, the lefty has a 4.78 ERA. The lefty’s postseason ERA was over 6.20 in 2016 and 2017.
Specifically, the Cubs knocked Gio around twice in the NLDS last season.
Miley is Milwaukee’s ace and, along with Anderson, could be Chicago’s toughest pitcher to crack in the potential NLDS series. Although, Miley has absolutely no postseason experience.
Inevitably, the Brewers are the better team right now. Nonetheless, everything is out the window in playoff baseball. Experience is key and no NL team in the playoffs this season brings more postseason experience to the table than the Cubs.
Chicago is hoping this will show if they make it past the Wild Card game. Lester, Hendricks, and Hamels know exactly what it takes to win in the playoffs. Hitting wise, Ben Zobrist is a former World Series MVP and the rest of Chicago’s lineup has come through at one point or another over the last three playoff appearances.
And don’t forget what Daniel Murphy can do in the playoffs.
It’s only fitting that the Cubs’ bats will finally come alive and display consistent efficiency in the playoffs. Recent history proves this is a possibility. This is what Chicago needs if it wants to reach its fourth consecutive NLCS.
- Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Eddie Herz is a senior journalism major at Colorado State University. He has been a beat reporter for CSU's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, since he was a freshman. Eddie has also contributed to the BTPowerhouse.com, a sister website of SBnation. Eddie will be the CSU Football beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain Collegian this coming Fall.
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