MILWAUKEE -- Here come the Cubs.
If the four-game series between the Cubs and Brewers beginning Thursday night at Miller Park is half as good as the one they played at Miller Park last September, then fans are in store for a fun weekend. Nail-biting, but fun.
"Regular season-wise, that was the best series I've ever been a part of," Travis Shaw said. "That was as dramatic and as close to a playoff atmosphere as you can get."
For the memory-challenged, the Brewers entered the series 3 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the National League Central with 10 games to play. The first three games all went 10 innings, with the Cubs taking the first two before Orlando Arcia hit a stunning home run off then-Cubs closer Wade Davis in the ninth inning to extend Game 3 for Jonathan Jay's go-ahead hit in the top of the 10th and Shaw's walk-off homer in the bottom of the frame.
The Cubs pounded a nail in the Brewers' division hopes the next day, when Jose Quintana twirled a shutout in the series finale.
"They were all well-pitched, well-defended games," said Shaw. "It seems like every time we play [the Cubs] it's a pretty good battle. Everybody is excited to get it going."
Was that series a learning experience for the Brewers against the more battle-tested Cubs?
"I think the whole month of September was a good learning experience," Shaw said. "Every game in the last two weeks, we had to win. It was coming down to the point where we were running out of games and we had to win every game. I think that's going to carry over into this year. Obviously, it's April now and it's a long year, but I think the experience we gathered in September last year is going to help us down the stretch this year."
Barnes throws a curve
Reliever Jacob Barnes is adding a curveball, which could be a helpful offspeed offering alongside his "hard-hard" repertoire of a fastball and a cutter/slider he's able to throw with different shapes.
Eventually, a curveball around 85 mph might prove an effective secondary pitch. But it's a work in progress, one factor in Barnes' second straight subpar Spring Training.
"It's still something that's on the mind," he said of his spring struggles. "Everyone is kind of like, 'Is everything OK?' I don't really know the reason behind it. I think it's because we try different things early on, and maybe it takes away from the basics of what I do."
In 2017 Spring Training, Barnes and pitching coach Derek Johnson tinkered with some different sequencing, and he had a .419 opponents' average and 2.33 WHIP in 10 Cactus League appearances. This year, playing with the curveball for much of March, he had a .424 average against and a 2.73 WHIP.
In the final week, however, Barnes put the curveball on the back burner and ramped up for the regular season. He pitched in three of the team's final four exhibition games without surrendering a run.
Then he worked three of the Brewers' first five regular-season games, allowing one hit and one walk in four scoreless innings, including two critical innings of Tuesday's come-from-behind, 5-4 win over the Cardinals at Miller Park.
Barnes has yet to show the curveball in the regular season.
Manager Craig Counsell offered updates Wednesday on the Brewers' injured players:
• Wade Miley (groin) is with the Double-A Biloxi club nearing the end of a flat-ground throwing program. The hope is that he will get back on a mound sometime next week, Counsell said.
Once he's healthy, hopefully late this month, the club will have to decide whether to bring Miley to the Majors or offer him his release. The timetable is dependent on whether the Brewers have need in the starting rotation or the bullpen.
• Stephen Vogt (right shoulder) has been cleared by Brewers doctors to resume throwing as soon as this weekend while the Brewers host the Cubs.
• Lefty reliever Boone Logan (left triceps) is expected back on a mound before the end of the Brewers' next road trip to St. Louis and New York.
• Right-hander Jimmy Nelson "is making progress" in his flat-ground throwing, Counsell said, and will continue to travel with the Major League team. He should be back on a mound before the end of the month but would have weeks of bullpens and rehab appearances before he is an option to start for the Brewers.