CHICAGO -- The Brewers put another dent in the Cubs' division lead.Wade Miley delivered another stingy start, Josh Hader struck out all six batters he faced in record-setting relief and Mike Moustakas scored twice, including a tiebreaking scamper home on a sixth-inning wild pitch that sent the Brewers to a
CHICAGO -- The Brewers put another dent in the Cubs' division lead.
Wade Miley delivered another stingy start, Josh Hader struck out all six batters he faced in record-setting relief and Mike Moustakas scored twice, including a tiebreaking scamper home on a sixth-inning wild pitch that sent the Brewers to a 3-2 win at Wrigley Field on Monday in the opener of another charged series between the National League Central's top two contenders.
With 10 victories in their last 12 games -- including three of four head-to-head matchups against the division leaders -- the Brewers have climbed within one game of the Cubs, who have lost five of seven. They have a 2 1/2-game lead on the Cardinals for the top NL Wild Card spot.
"We've got to continue to put a dent in it," said Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell of the Cubs' lead in the runup to the three-game set.
Now there's only one dent left with 17 games to go.
"Obviously, we've been playing some pretty good baseball," said Moustakas. "But you know that's a great team over there, and they're not going to go away. They're not going to just give it up. We have to go out there every single day, keep fighting, keep grinding and go to win a ballgame each and every night."
A week ago, the Cubs led by five games before the Brewers took two of three in the clubs' series at Miller Park, and Counsell and Co. continued ticking off victories in a three-game sweep of San Francisco over the weekend. Miley helped continue the run on Monday, pitching the Brewers through the end of the fifth after getting past a sloppy first inning that included a baserunning gaffe in the top of the frame, then a walk, a costly error on Miley's errant pickoff and two Cubs hits in the bottom half for a 1-1 tie.
Miley was charged with two earned runs on four hits, with three walks and one strikeout. The lefty, who more than tripled the usage of his cut fastball this season and now works predominantly with that pitch, has started for the Brewers 13 times and surrendered two or fewer runs in 12 of those outings. In the other, he allowed three earned runs. His ERA is down to 2.23 in 68 2/3 innings.
"Tonight was kind of a 'don't give in' night for him," Counsell said. "I don't think his command was exactly where he wanted it to start the game, but he kept the ball down very well all night, so there were quite a few ground balls. He did the job again."
The Brewers' offense was led by Lorenzo Cain's four hits, an RBI for Jonathan Schoop on a near-grand slam in the first inning and an RBI for Orlando Arcia on a tiebreaking single in the second.
After Moustakas scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on a wild pitch from Cubs reliever C.J. Edwards, the Brewers bullpen took the game over. Corbin Burnes worked a scoreless sixth, Hader carved through the Cubs in the seventh and eighth and Jeremy Jeffress stranded the tying runner at second base after a two-out walk in the ninth inning for his 11th save.
Every game is the same, the Brewers keep saying. But did this one have an extra dose of emotion?
"Every win feels like that," Counsell said. "It really does. The whole weekend against San Francisco felt like that. The wins in Washington felt like that. When you're down to under 20 games to go, you're riding that a little bit. There's still a game tomorrow night. You can't roll too high with everything, and you can't get too low if you lose. You have to use your emotion to your advantage this time of year.
"It was a good night. We'll try to have a good night tomorrow. There's still big challenges ahead. That's how you have to approach it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Wild pitch: The Brewers made some loud early contact against Cubs starter Jonathan Lester, who then settled down before low back tightness abruptly ended his outing in the decisive sixth. After a visit from an athletic trainer, Lester surrendered a two-out single to Moustakas and a double to Erik Kratz, then received another visit and had to leave the game. Edwards took over and was granted as much time as he needed to warm up. He bounced a first-pitch curveball past catcher Willson Contreras, allowing Moustakas to score the go-ahead run.
Moustakas was on his toes thanks to third-base coach Ed Sedar.
"Eddie actually told me, 'Hey, look for a wild pitch right here and get down the line and try to score.' And it happened," Moustakas said. "I was able to get down there. It worked out pretty well for us."
Defense delivers: After a shaky first inning, the Brewers played stellar defense behind their starting pitcher. The highlights included a beautiful Moustakas-to-Schoop-to-Jesus Aguilar double play to end the fourth inning, center fielder Cain's running catch of a troubling Lester line drive in the fifth and Schoop's twirling throw to end that inning with only the tying run across.
"LoCain saved it when Lester hit the ball. That gave me a little boost," Miley said. "I really thought they had a double in the gap but I was able to get out of it with just one run there."
Pitching carefully with the tying runner at third after Lester's line drive out, Miley walked the next two batters, then surrendered Kristopher Bryant's sacrifice fly to make it 2-2. With the go-ahead run now in scoring position, Anthony Rizzo hit a hard grounder to a shifted Schoop, who spun around and made an on-target throw to first base to end the inning.
"I used to be so anti-shift, but the more you play the game and the more you see it -- people really don't notice those kind of plays," Miley said. "Really, he saved the game. It turns into a big inning if he's not out there making those plays."
Said Schoop: "That was the first time I went deep at second base. That's why you have to get your work in, so when the plays happen in the game, you've worked on it."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
A rematch with Rizzo highlighted Hader's electric two-inning stint, as the left-hander struck out all six batters he faced to give him 127 strikeouts this season and a new Brewers single-season record for a reliever. Corey Knebel, who struck out 126 batters during his All-Star 2017 season, held the mark for less than a year.
Hader wasn't aware he'd set a record.
"I felt really good in my mechanics and really getting through the mound," he said. "I had good life on the ball. ... To have any type of record is a great feeling."
Said Lester: "What are you going to do with that? He's basically Chris Sale from a relief standpoint with his angle."
Hader leads Major League relievers in strikeouts and strikeout rate (46.9 percent), though he'll need a big finish to join Albertin Chapman and Craig Kimbrel as the only regular relievers to whiff more than half of the batters they face in a season.
The key inning was the eighth, when Hader retired Bryant, Rizzo and NL MVP candidate Javier Baez. Eight days earlier, Rizzo won a similar battle at Miller Park when he hit a go-ahead, two-run home run.
"I made sure he was aware that Rizzo was up again," Counsell said. "He definitely was up for that challenge and I think he wanted that challenge. Two great players going at each other, that's what you want to see."
HE SAID IT
"The schedule continues after Wednesday. That's for sure. The season will move on after Wednesday. You have to understand that, and you have to keep that in mind. That's important." -- Counsell, on staying focused after this crucial series
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Brewers were in business in the ninth after Domingo Santana pinch-hit for Hader and singled, then advanced on Christian Yelich's walk. But Santana was erased on a pickoff, deftly blocked by Cubs second baseman Daniel Murphy from getting his foot back to the bag. Rather than sit on their challenge, the Brewers used it. The call was confirmed, and the rally fizzled.
Jhoulys Chacin gets the call as the Brewers take on the Cubs at 7:05 p.m. CT on Tuesday at Wrigley Field in the MLB Network Showcase Game. Chacin is 2-1 with a 1.53 ERA in three starts against Chicago this season, but his lone loss to the North Siders came on Wednesday after he allowed five runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings at Miller Park. He faces a tough opponent in Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana, who is 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in nine career starts against the Brewers, including 3-1 with a 2.64 ERA in five starts against them this season.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.