MILWAUKEE -- "These three games are not going to determine the division," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said in the dugout at Miller Park on Monday afternoon, projecting calm before his team put the National League's best record on the line.On the other hand, Counsell added of the Cubs, "This is
MILWAUKEE -- "These three games are not going to determine the division," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said in the dugout at Miller Park on Monday afternoon, projecting calm before his team put the National League's best record on the line.
On the other hand, Counsell added of the Cubs, "This is the team you have to beat."
The Brewers have beaten many teams this season, but not the Cubs, not with any consistency, and not on Monday night. Josh Hader yielded the tying run in the eighth inning and Anthony Rizzo hit Matt Albers' first pitch of the 11th into the right-field bleachers to start a five-run Chicago outburst, sending the Brewers toward a 7-2 loss and their eighth defeat in nine games against the Cubs this season, including seven in a row.
Rizzo's first Miller Park home run since 2016 pushed the Cubs (38-25) into first place in the NL Central for the first time since May 1, and past the Brewers for the best record in the NL.
The 39-27 Brewers, who had held the division's top spot since May 17, are one-half game back of Chicago.
"There's a reason they've had the success they had," said Ryan Braun, who made his mark on the game defensively. "They do all the little things well. They don't make mistakes. We still have to get better at some of those things, I think, to consistently play as good of baseball as they do, and obviously, they have experience playing good teams in big situations."
For the first seven innings, the Brewers did the little things just as well. In an entertaining opener to the teams' last series before mid-August, Erik Kratz and Jonathan Villar homered off Brewers nemesis Jose Quintana, and Braun made a pair of highlight-reel catches, including a leaping grab at the left-field wall to rob Willson Contreras of a potential home run in the sixth inning. The play preserved a 2-1 lead into the eighth.
• Kratz goes deep for third HR in six games
That advantage slipped away from lights-out lefty Hader, who ended a nine-appearance scoreless streak that dated back to May 5. Benjamin Zobrist walked and took second on a flyout when Villar bobbled the throw back to the infield. Left-handed hitters were 2-for-36 with 23 strikeouts against Hader before Jason Heyward bucked those numbers with a run-scoring single that tied the game at 2-2.
"I left it over the plate," Hader said. "I was trying to go away with it, and he did what he had to do with it."
Ditto for Albers against Rizzo in the 11th. Albers anticipated a first-pitch swing from Rizzo and wanted a changeup up and in.
Instead, it was right down the middle.
"That one is definitely on me," said Albers, who has allowed runs in three of his first four outings in June. "We're right there every game. It's not like [the Cubs] are taking it to us. We just have to keep battling and we'll be there."
The Cubs denied Brewers starter Junior Guerra a victory following his fourth straight quality start. He surrendered a single run on five hits in six innings of a duel with Quintana, who extended his scoreless streak against the Brewers to 26 innings over parts of five starts before Kratz connected with a changeup for a solo home run and a 1-0 lead in the third.
Villar's solo homer in the fifth reclaimed the lead, but it didn't last.
"I don't think there's any sense of panic with whatever happens," Rizzo said. "They have a guy [Hader] who is unhittable come in the game, and we somehow scratch a run off him and no one is fazed. We're grinding at-bats out and it's an organization-wide mentality of not giving up. We do a good job of that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Villar's drop: Zobrist, after reaching via a leadoff walk in the eighth, broke for second when Albert Almora Jr. flew out to Lorenzo Cain in center field. The throw beat Zobrist to second base but one-hopped to Villar, who couldn't hang on. That put Zobrist in scoring position for Heyward's game-tying hit.
"[Shortstop Orlando] Arcia was crying loud, 'Tag, tag, tag!' because I think [Zobrist] is close to the base," Villar said. "Arcia is yelling and I tried taking the ball too quick. That situation, when you see the guy is coming, I tried to tag him quick, but I missed the ball."
Knebel vs. Schwarber: The Cubs had a chance for a big inning when Rizzo worked a two-out walk from Hader later in the eighth, and Brewers closer Corey Knebel took over for only his second appearance this month and missed the strike zone with his first six pitches. With the bases loaded, Knebel recovered from being down 2-0 against Kyle Schwarber and induced a groundout into the shift, ending the inning with the game tied.
"I give him a ton of credit for finding it and making a pitch when he had to make a pitch," Counsell said. "Look, I'd love to get Corey out there and get him in a little bit of a rhythm. … We've just been in one of those weird stretches. We'll get him in a rhythm. He still came out and had a good ninth inning."
Monday marked the Brewers' first loss when Hader appears in a game. They were 21-0 entering the day.
"Josh has been so incredible that it's impossible to continue to be as great as he has been," Braun said. "Even he, every once in a while, is going to give up a hit."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Give Braun one point for the catch itself, and another for the post-catch troll job after his leaping grab robbed Contreras of a potential home run to end the sixth inning with Milwaukee clinging to a one-run lead. Braun held the crowd in suspense for a moment before trotting back to the dugout with the baseball in hand.
"I was just having fun with it," Braun said. "As a hitter, that's so frustrating, it's kind of an emotional moment, and Willson obviously hit it pretty good. He thought he had a homer. It was just having fun."
• Braun leaves fans in suspense after HR robbery
The Brewers will send right-hander Chase Anderson (4-5, 4.57 ERA) to the mound in the second game of the three-game series against the Cubs on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Anderson lost both of his starts on the Brewers' recent eight-game road trip, and he is 0-2 against Chicago this season. Tyler Chatwood (3-4, 3.86), who has 56 walks and 53 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings this season, will start for the Cubs.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.