MILWAUKEE -- Before the Brewers knocked him around in the early innings of a 13-10 win on Friday night, Jose Quintana had started 11 games against Milwaukee for the White Sox and Cubs. He surrendered two or fewer runs in 10 of those games and five runs in the other, adding up to a sparkling 1.62 ERA overall and a 1.55 ERA in six starts at Miller Park.
Quintana was so effective against the Brewers that Chicago manager Joe Maddon started him seven times against them in 2018, including the National League Central tiebreaker game -- the first Cubs starter in 57 years to face an opponent that many times in a single season.
All of that made Quintana appear the perfect pitcher from the Cubs’ point of to take the mound for a team badly in need of innings from their starters, against a Brewers team that had yet to break out the bats, but has now won six in a row.
Then everything turned upside down.
Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun combined for six RBIs in the first two innings and Braun, Hernan Perez and Yasmani Grandal hit runs off Quintana for an 8-0 lead by the end of the third. Orlando Arcia and Eric Thames homered for five more runs against the beleaguered Cubs bullpen as the Brewers matched a franchise record with home runs from five players.
It got a little close for manager Craig Counsell’s comfort in the ninth, but the Brewers got away with a victory that lifted them to 7-1. They have a three-game margin on the rest of the National League Central and a 5 1/2-game lead on the Cubs, who are 1-6 and tied for last place. But there’s a lot of baseball left.
“Nothing changes from our perspective,” Counsell said. “It’s a really good team that’s in our division that we know is going to be there at the end. It’s the first of many meetings this year.
“I like to put it in a fan’s perspective -- it’s a football schedule and we’re at halftime of Week 1 in the baseball season. Nothing’s happened yet. We’re not past the beginning yet.”
Still, it felt good to exorcise a few years of frustration against a pitcher who had given them so much trouble. Especially since the Brewers are bound to see a lot more of Quintana before the year is out.
“When you score eight runs against Quintana when we scored 10 last year overall,” said Perez, “That's a good sign for us.”
So, what changed?
Going into the day, here was one theory: Could a new hitting coach help against Quintana? Especially since that coach, Andy Haines, came to the Brewers from the Cubs?
Before the game, Counsell said there’s only so much a hitting coach can do. It would be up to the players to resist the urge to chase. But after, Counsell mentioned Haines by name.
“I thought Andy gave the guys a really solid plan today about being convicted about what you’re looking for, and they followed through on it and did a great job,” Counsell said.
That conviction was clear in the first two innings. In the first, after Lorenzo Cain’s first-pitch single, Yelich stayed alive for 11 pitches in what became a 33-pitch first inning for Quintana. The marathon at-bat included five two-strike foul balls on tough pitches before Yelich got a full-count fastball down and in, where a lot of left-handed hitters like it. The RBI double for a 1-0 lead gave Yelich a hit in seven of the Brewers’ first eight games. He’s reached safely at least once in all eight.
Braun followed with an even more aggressive approach. After taking a fastball up and in for Strike 1, Quintana threw the same pitch to the same spot. Braun hit it for a sharp single to center field and a 2-0 lead.
An inning later, Quintana again started Braun with a high and tight fastball, this time off the plate for Ball 1. Again, Quintana followed with another fastball. It was at the top of the strike zone but over the plate, and Braun hammered it into the Brewers’ bullpen for a three-run home run and a 6-0 lead.
“I think they really ambushed against me tonight,” Quintana said. “They jumped on me right away. When I gave up the homer against Braun, I think the game changed their way. It's really tough this time. It's not fun. I feel really bad. I tried to pick up my teammates. We've had a couple really bad games."
The Brewers will face a tough left-hander for the second straight game when Cole Hamels takes the mound for the Cubs at 6:10 p.m. CT on Saturday opposite Corbin Burnes, who struck out 12 Cardinals in his first Major League start last week. Burnes will try to limit the long ball after yielding a trio of St. Louis home runs in a game Milwaukee rallied to win.