CHICAGO -- The Brewers followed one of their most complete victories of the season with an ugly defeat, an 8-4 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Wednesday in which starter Junior Guerra was knocked out in the fourth inning, Ryan Braun and Manny Pina exited with injuries, and
CHICAGO -- The Brewers followed one of their most complete victories of the season with an ugly defeat, an 8-4 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Wednesday in which starter Junior Guerra was knocked out in the fourth inning, Ryan Braun and Manny Pina exited with injuries, and the Cubs ran up an early lead with help from Milwaukee miscues.
Now comes another stiff test. On to St. Louis.
The Brewers fell three games behind the National League Central-leading Cubs and saw their Wild Card edge over the third-place-and-charging Cardinals shrink to one game after the Cardinals won again Wednesday night and pending St. Louis' outcome against Washington on Thursday. The Brewers and Cardinals begin a three-game weekend series at Busch Stadium on Friday.
"It's not unexpected," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of the Cardinals' recent rise in the standings. "The Pirates were the team a couple of weeks ago and now the Cardinals are making a run. That's the division. That's not a surprise. It doesn't surprise me. You expected one of those teams to make a serious challenge at it and right now the Cardinals are doing it."
Anthony Rizzo gave Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs an early lead with a two-run home run off Guerra that found the left-field basket in the first inning, but if any frame represented what kind of day it was for the visitors, it was the third.
A one-out triple for leadoff hitter Javier Baez put the Cubs in business, and they cashed in with Jason Heyward's RBI double off a sliding Braun's glove, an error charged to first baseman Eric Thames, coupled with the debatable decision not to challenge the call at the bag on that play, as well as a pair of Guerra wild pitches for a 4-0 Chicago lead.
Jonathan Schoop and Thames delivered successive run-scoring hits in the top of the fourth, but the Cubs answered back with three more runs in the bottom of that frame while chasing Guerra from the game. Rizzo greeted reliever Dan Jennings with a pop-fly RBI single that dropped because second baseman Travis Shaw, shifted on the play and without sunglasses, lost the ball in the sun.
"I thought Junior didn't pitch poorly at all. They hit it where we weren't," said Counsell, who conceded the Brewers were burned by their shifts, and by playing their big-boy infield with Shaw at second base and Schoop at shortstop. "We had a couple of plays to get out of the inning. We just didn't make them.
"We know the trade-off we're making, but the positive, for me, is the experience. I think we learned some things today. Johnny Schoop learned some things today that we can take and use and be better at next time. Going into this, we knew there were some things they were going to have to learn on the field, and today was the day that happened."
Guerra was charged with seven runs (six earned) on nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. He entered the day with a 1.74 ERA in eight career games (five starts) against the Cubs, including two quality starts this season.
"It felt like two different games," Guerra said of the series. "[Jhoulys] Chacin went deep into the game [on Tuesday], and today, it kind of flipped on us."
Of the emotional ups and downs late in the season, Braun said, "That's what makes it fun, right? You want the games to be meaningful. You want to feel that emotion every day, win or lose, when you get to this point of the year. The wins feel better and the losses hurt more."
The Cardinals could be just as formidable a foe this weekend. St. Louis entered its game on Thursday night on an eight-game winning streak.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Braun's sliding attempt: Braun tweaked his right rib cage trying to catch Heyward's double but was hopeful he's just day to day. Braun has been one of the Brewers' hottest hitters and is coming off a two-homer afternoon on Tuesday that gave him a .668 slugging percentage over a 15-game span.
"It happened on that play, but it didn't impact my ability to catch that ball," said Braun, who wasn't sure whether that play would have made a difference in the outcome. More >
Non-challenge: After Braun's near miss, Thames had a chance to help Guerra when Rizzo hit a bouncer off first base. Thames muffed it but then flipped to Guerra, who tried a swipe tag and immediately signalled to the dugout for a challenge when the initial call was safe. With only 30 seconds to decide, the Brewers' replay official sent word to the dugout to pass. But one slow-motion replay from Milwaukee's television feed showed Guerra tagging Rizzo on the shoulder before he stepped on first base.
"They have a lot of angles, but there's a time thing to it, as well," Counsell said. "When they get each feed, that's part of the equation."
Was Guerra surprised the team didn't challenge?
"Yeah, I was a little surprised, because I knew I tagged him," Guerra said. "At the same time, you always know that there are different angles. They probably didn't want to waste a challenge if they didn't think it was clear enough to challenge it."
Rally fizzles in seventh: The Brewers made things interesting in the seventh, when they scored twice and had the bases loaded with one out with Shaw and Schoop due to hit after chasing Hendricks and reliever C.J. Edwards Lefty Justin Wilson retired Shaw on a popout in a 2-0 count, and right-hander Steve Cishek got Schoop to line out to the left-field gap.
"We certainly had a shot," Counsell said. "Their outfield defense helped them a lot today."
HE SAID IT
"There's a lot of folks who would've been running for the hills if we lost. ... You can't overreact. The power of 24 hours is evident between last night and today. I can't emphasize that enough. If you want to ride the emotional roller coaster, man, it will wipe you out." -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon
Coming off a loss in Atlanta in which he allowed seven earned runs, rookie right-hander Freddy Peralta gets the ball for the opener of the Brewers' weekend series in St. Louis. He'll pitch opposite right-hander Jack Flaherty at 7:15 p.m. CT at Busch Stadium.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.