CHICAGO -- There are no "must-win" games in mid-August, but there are big games and buoying victories. And the Brewers' 7-0 win over the Cubs on Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley Field may have been one of them.Jhoulys Chacin struck out 10 over seven scoreless innings for his finest start in
CHICAGO -- There are no "must-win" games in mid-August, but there are big games and buoying victories. And the Brewers' 7-0 win over the Cubs on Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley Field may have been one of them.
Jhoulys Chacin struck out 10 over seven scoreless innings for his finest start in a Brewers uniform, and Ryan Braun hit two of Milwaukee's four home runs in a decisive win over longtime nemesis Jose Quintana to open a two-game series.
It lifted the Brewers, losers of five of their previous seven games, within two games of the National League Central-leading Cubs with 40 regular-season contests to play, and kept Milwaukee atop the tightening NL Wild Card standings.
"It was pretty close to a must-win," said Braun. "To stay in the division race, we needed to at least win one of two, and ideally we need to win both. These guys [the Cubs] are really good and we obviously didn't want to leave here down five games."
The shutout win came at a venue at which the Brewers scored just two runs while losing all four games of a frigid series in April, as well as against an opposing starter -- left-hander Quintana -- who had long meant trouble. Quintana entered the day with an 0.92 ERA in seven career starts against the Brewers, having allowed just five runs in 49 innings.
But Milwaukee flipped the script on Tuesday, taking a 5-0 lead before Quintana recorded his seventh out. Lorenzo Cain hit the game's second pitch for a leadoff home run, and Braun followed three batters later with a two-run shot. Two innings later, Braun hit another curveball for another two-run home run.
"He's thoroughly dominated us every time he's pitched against us," Braun said. "It was important to get off to a good start. Cain set the tone."
Erik Kratz added a solo shot in the sixth against Jesse Chavez and an RBI double in the eighth against Jorge De La Rosa to help put the game away for Chacin, who scattered three hits and two walks over seven shutout innings for his second straight victory since a blow-up start at Dodger Stadium. Chacin's 10 strikeouts were a season high, and it marked the third time he'd reached double digits in 193 career starts.
"Any time you pitch against the team you're chasing, you get pumped up," Chacin said. "After we scored those three runs in the first inning, it got me more pumped up."
The Cubs have had that effect on the 30-year-old. In a pair of starts against them this season, Chacin has allowed seven hits and no runs with 17 strikeouts in 13 innings.
"I think the success he's had this year is underappreciated," Braun said. "He's just been so consistent. He just continues to do what he's done, but today was probably the most significant game he's pitched for us."
Manager Craig Counsell concurred.
"Look, this was a big game," Counsell said. "When a guy puts up a game like that and throws seven scoreless on the road against the team you're chasing, that's an important game and an important performance."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Crooked number: If Cain set the tone, Braun amplified it with the first of his no-doubt home runs. Besides giving the Brewers a 3-0 lead, it gave Braun 200 career hits against the Cubs on the way to 201 by the end of the day. Braun is the second active player to reach that plateau, behind Yadier Molina's 210.
"I think a couple big-time players stepped up in the first inning," Counsell said. "We've struggled against this guy [Quintana]. You put three runs up in the first inning with two homers and it flips the script pretty fast for the dugout. It was something we've needed. It's felt like it's been coming, and we got it done in an important game." More >
Chacin gets the corner: Two pitches defined Chacin's day, and of course, both were sliders. In the third inning, he buckled Javier Baez's knees with a slider that broke back into the strike zone for a called strike three. In the sixth, after Baez hit one for a double, Chacin threw a backdoor slider to left-handed-hitting Benjamin Zobrist for a called strike three from plate umpire Phil Cuzzi. Zobrist disagreed, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon rushed out to get between player and umpire, and was ejected.
"We've not obviously hit the ball very well recently," Zobrist said. "Chacin pitched pretty well, he kept us off balance when he needed to. He was effective in the zone. When he threw the ball, he had good deception. He didn't necessarily spot up super great, but good enough."
Said Chacin: "I never say anything about the ball/strike [calls]. I had a very bad game in L.A. that if I got one call, it could have been a different game for me. They're human, so they miss calls, they get calls right. I don't judge anything. I'm just trying to make pitches, trying to get close to the plate, and I feel like if I was throwing consistent for strikes, maybe those little edge pitches, they'll give them to me."
It's been all or nothing when the Brewers and Cubs meet this season. Of the first 12 games between the teams, eight have been shutouts. The Cubs have won five of those games and the Brewers three -- the teams' last three meetings. It marks the first time the Brewers have ever blanked the Cubs in three straight games.
"That's fun with numbers that we all like to have at times," Counsell said. "The shutouts, I can't explain that -- why it's going both ways. There's been some good pitching performances in the [season] series."
Junior Guerra is on the mound Wednesday opposite Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks in the finale of the two-game series. Guerra has a 1.74 ERA in eight career appearances against the Cubs, including five starts. He's allowed two earned runs in 12 innings over two starts against Chicago this season. First pitch is set for 1:20 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.