Crew snaps skid vs. Cubs' starters by crushing MLB's ERA leader

May 30th, 2024

MILWAUKEE – Christian Yelich was at a loss for words when he was posed the question on a frustrating Tuesday night for the Brewers.

Why can’t the Brewers hit Cubs starting pitchers?

But in Milwaukee’s 10-6 win on Wednesday at American Family Field, Yelich and the Crew answered early and often -- and they did it against the Cubs’ best starter, Shota Imanaga, the Majors’ ERA leader who was off to a historic opening to his big league career.

Yelich hit a two-run home run off well-rested left-hander Imanaga in the first inning and Blake Perkins pulled a “smash and grab” in the third, robbing a home run at the center-field wall in the top of the inning before hitting a two-run homer amid a five-run Milwaukee rally in the bottom of the frame.

Yelich and Willy Adames both homered and finished with three RBIs and Perkins put on a defensive display all night, but the most significant development came right off the top. With Yelich’s first-inning homer -- his first since April 10 and the 199th of his career -- the Brewers had their first runs off a Cubs starting pitcher all season, snapping a stretch of 32 1/3 scoreless innings over five games and five different pitchers going into the night.

The most recent Cubs starter to put zeros on the board was righty Ben Brown, who not only held the Brewers scoreless over the first seven innings on Tuesday night, but also held Milwaukee without a hit.

The task didn’t get any easier against Imanaga. The former Japan Central League star entered the day with a 0.84 ERA, the lowest mark through nine career Major League starts since the earned run became a stat in 1913.

“His baseball acumen, for me, is off the charts,” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said Wednesday afternoon. “You can just see it in how he works and how he reads swings and how he does his thing. It’s pretty special. His stuff is good. His pitchability is great.”

Even special pitchers have off nights. Imanaga was well rested after the Cubs opted to skip his last start in the run-up to this series against the NL Central-leading Brewers, but perhaps that led to rust, as Yelich hammered a misplaced fastball in the first inning before Adames, Gary Sánchez and Perkins delivered run-scoring hits in the third off Imanaga’s best pitch, the splitter. Perkins in particular got one to hit, an 81.8 mph offering that split the middle of the plate.

It capped a great inning for Perkins, who, moments earlier with the Brewers clinging to a 2-1 lead, had leaped at the wall in center field to rob a two-run homer from Cubs third baseman Christopher Morel.

“Really, defense won us the game. Let’s be honest,” Murphy said.

It started with the offense, however.

“Joey set the tone,” said Murphy, referring to third baseman Joey Ortiz’s leadoff double in the bottom of the first inning, “and then ‘Yeli’ came up huge for us and let everybody know that, ‘Hey guys, we can get on this guy.’”

Imanaga, who’d allowed seven runs (five earned) in 53 2/3 innings over his first nine big league starts, is now third in the Majors with a 1.86 ERA after allowing seven runs in 4 1/3 innings to the Brewers.

"They were definitely aggressive,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said of his former club. “They felt aggressive on the fastball, just from the start. He made a bad pitch to Yelich. Ortiz, to lead off the game, 0-2, it was a fastball, it was a strike, located it pretty well at the top of the zone. Then, a bit of a merry-go-round got started [in the third]. I thought they had some good at-bats."

There will be more matchups to come. Imanaga inked a four-year deal with the Cubs on Jan. 11.

“You can watch video and you can see what happened to other teams, but until you really get into the box against a guy, you don’t know what it’s going to look like, what it’s going to be like,” Yelich said. “So we were out there like, ‘Alright, let’s just grind and see what we can do.’ Let’s keep putting pressure on the other team, constant traffic. It ended up being our night.”