MILWAUKEE -- The Cubs stormed into Miller Park with momentum and left with it, too.
Fill-in first baseman Victor Caratini hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning and Kristopher Bryant added insurance with another solo shot in the eighth for a 4-2 win over the stumbling Brewers on Sunday in front of a third straight sellout crowd. The Cubs' 13th win in 16 games since the All-Star break gave Chicago a 2 1/2 game lead in the National League Central over the Brewers, who have lost 11 of 14.
"We're playing a real good team here in their ballpark," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The fact that we were able to [go 13-3 since the break] is based on starting pitching primarily."
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Domingo Santana hit a tying, two-run home run for the Brewers in the sixth, but Milwaukee's bats mostly remained quiet against Cubs starter John Lackey and three relievers. Lackey limited the damage to two runs on five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts, and was replaced by a pinch-hitter moments after Caratini connected against Brewers starter Zach Davies in the seventh for the go-ahead home run.
"Johnny [Lackey] was really good," Maddon said. "That was like couple years ago Johnny. His fastball was that good, the slider was that good. I thought he threw the ball extremely well today."
Davies is Major League Baseball's leader in run support, but he didn't get it on Sunday while suffering his first loss in seven starts. He was charged with three earned runs on seven hits in seven innings, with no walks and six strikeouts.
"Offensively, we just haven't been very good," Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw said. "Our pitching staff did their job this series. I thought the bullpen did a really good job and Davies, another great quality start for us today. It's just offensively, we did not come up with the clutch hit. There's ruts like that throughout the season. Obviously, we were really good in the first half offensively. We just have to find a way to get going."
It won't get easier. The Cardinals come to Miller Park next, and they have won 13 consecutive series in Milwaukee.
"I don't think anybody in this clubhouse is too worried about this one series," Davies said. "Yeah, it would have been nice to switch up the standings again, but there's still 55 games or so left to play and we're going to go out and compete in every one of them."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
One-hopper: After the Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the sixth with four consecutive two-out hits against Davies, the Brewers tied the game with one Santana swing. His opposite-field home run bounced off the top of the wall in right field, just out of the reach of Jason Heyward, who already robbed one homer earlier in the series. Ten of Santana's 18 home runs have sailed to the opposite field, and 10 of the 18 have tied a game or given the Brewers a lead.
Keep the line moving: Maddon wasn't happy with his club's offensive performance in Saturday's 2-1, 11-inning win, but the sixth inning Sunday was more like it. After Davies retired the first two batters of the inning, the next four delivered well-placed hits, starting with Jonathan Jay's single. Bryant's double over third base put a pair of runners in scoring position for Willson Contreras' dribbler on the infield, and Addison Russell capped a seven-pitch at-bat with a soft single to center field for another run.
"We need to score runs on singles," Maddon said. "That's what you've got to be able to do and then you hit a home run. You've got to piece together those kind of moments right there to really be consistently good to get on a good roll. It's about starting pitching, it's about good situational hitting. We do grind out at-bats. Addison's was a big big play and so was Willson's."
"This was intense. This was definitely the loudest crowd I think I've played in front of. It's one of the biggest crowds I've played in front of -- a lot of Cub fans and a lot of Brewers fans. It's a heated rivalry, and we're fighting for first place. We've got two months left, we're fighting for first place, so it was a very heated series between two good teams." -- Brewers rookie outfielder Lewis Brinson, who went 0-for-8 in the series but made a pair of inning-ending diving catches, including one in the fourth on Sunday
"It's a good feeling, a huge feeling. It's my first career home run and I'm trying to help the team win. It feels amazing." -- Caratini
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With his home run in the eighth, Bryant became the fourth Cubs player ever with three 20-homer seasons by his age-25 campaign or younger, joining Ron Santo (four times, 1961-65), Anthony Rizzo (three times, 2013-15), and Billy Williams (three times, 1961-63). Bryant hit 26 home runs in 2015 and 39 last year.
DUBIOUS RECORD FOR BREWERS
When Jett Bandy grounded out and Davies flied out in the second, the Brewers were hitless in their last 31 at-bats with runners in scoring position, setting a franchise record. The previous mark was 0-for-30, set by the "Team Streak" Brewers of 1987 and matched by a 2002 team that lost 106 games. The Brewers haven't had a hit with a man in scoring position since Santana hit a run-scoring single on Tuesday in Washington. More >
"We'll get out of it," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "I'm confident we'll score runs. That's something I feel really good about. I still think we're a good offensive team."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With two outs in the Brewers' sixth and Bandy at first, Cubs catcher Contreras threw to first baseman Caratini for the pickoff attempt. Bandy was called safe but the Cubs challenged the ruling and after a review, the call stood.
Cubs: After an off-day Monday, the Cubs open a six-game homestand on Tuesday, beginning with three games against the D-backs. Jonathan Lester will start Tuesday. The lefty is 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break. First pitch will be 7:05 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field.
Brewers: The Brewers are off Monday before they begin a three-game series with the Cardinals at Miller Park. Right-hander Jimmy Nelson will make his 22nd start of the season at 6:40 p.m. CT on Tuesday. He leads the Brewers with 12 quality starts, but is 0-8 with a 7.01 ERA in 11 career games against St. Louis, including one losing decision this season.
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