MILWAUKEE -- Another subpar outing by a starting pitcher. Three errors and no runs for the second straight night. Cleanup hitter Travis Shaw ejected for going too far in an argument over a called third strike. Christian Yelich sidelined by a tight oblique.And those were just the start of the
MILWAUKEE -- Another subpar outing by a starting pitcher. Three errors and no runs for the second straight night. Cleanup hitter Travis Shaw ejected for going too far in an argument over a called third strike. Christian Yelich sidelined by a tight oblique.
And those were just the start of the Brewers issues on Thursday after an 8-0 loss to the Cubs at Miller Park.
Teammates and manager Craig Counsell were more concerned about the status of All-Star closer Corey Knebel, who went down with a left hamstring injury after throwing a pitch in the ninth inning and will be placed on the 10-day disabled list. Now, in addition to their solving their offense, defense and starting rotation, the Brewers must choose a new closer.
"The loss, you can turn the page," Counsell said, "but [Knebel's injury] makes it harder."
Thursday marked the low point of what has been a rollercoaster seven-game start to the season for the Brewers, who have celebrated a series-opening sweep in San Diego and two wild, ninth-inning comebacks, but have also endured a series loss to the rival Cardinals and back-to-back shutout losses at home.
On Wednesday, Carlos Martinez and the Cardinals blanked the Brewers on five hits. On Thursday, it was Jonathan Lester and three Cubs relievers on four hits. They were the Brewers' first consecutive shutout losses since August 2015.
"We could easily be 1-6 right now," Shaw said. "The fact we're 4-3 could be a good sign, because I don't think we've played very well at all, all around. Hitting-wise, we haven't been great. We've been great late in games, but for consistency of nine innings, we've only put it together one game out of seven. We're still 4-3. We've got a lot of work to do."
Shaw was ejected for arguing plate umpire Brian O'Nora's called strike three to end the sixth inning. Shaw was barking from the Brewers' dugout when O'Nora signaled the ejection.
"That was a ball, but he kind of let me air it out there for a while and didn't do anything. I should have stopped talking when I got back to the dugout," Shaw said. "I said a little bit too much. I think it was more frustration than it was anything else."
Brewers starter Brent Suter was out of the game by then, having surrendered five runs (four earned) on eight hits in five innings. Since Chase Anderson pitched six scoreless innings on Opening Day, Brewers starters have a 7.54 ERA and have surrendered 43 hits in 28 2/3 innings.
Of course, Cy Young himself could not win if his team cannot score. Besides Jesus Aguilar, who tallied three hits in his first start of the season to match a career high, the only Brewer to get a hit was Ryan Braun, who doubled in the sixth inning before Shaw struck out.
"Really it was a carbon copy of last night," Counsell said. "We didn't do much right. Offensively, we haven't put an inning together the last two nights.
"We have not played well in any area of the game the last two nights. There's been plays that have to be made and situations that have to be handled better. We've been getting down early, and I don't think that's helping. Four days in a row of getting down early. We have to switch that around."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Credit him with an assist: Lester finished the first of his six scoreless innings by testing his "Pippen-to-Jordan" pass in the first. This spring, Lester and coach Brian Butterfield worked on a bounce pass to help Lester overcome the throwing issues that allowed the Brewers to steal five bases against Lester each of the previous two times they faced him, in 2015 and '16. With two outs in the Brewers' first, Braun walked and stole second quickly and without a throw before the lefty had delivered a pitch to Shaw. Braun then tried to steal third, but this time, Lester bounced the ball to third baseman Kristopher Bryant, and Braun was tagged out.
Did Braun push things too far?
"No, that was exactly what we wanted. We're going to take a risk against Lester," Counsell said. "It's worked in the past. We're going to push it on him. We'll push it again when we get the chance."
Cubs second baseman Javier Baez said something to Braun after he was tagged.
"I told him, 'Only once, not twice,'" Baez said.
Skunky Brew: Two of the Brewers' errors came on the same sloppy play as the Cubs took a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Baez was at first base after hitting a two-run single when Lester smacked a comebacker that glanced off Suter's glove and under second baseman Hernan Perez's glove for one error. While Baez cruised into third base, center fielder Lorenzo Cain bobbled the baseball for a second error that allowed Baez to score.
Baez bucked his slow start with three walks, a hit by pitch, two RBIs and a run scored for the Cubs, who got seven hits, five runs scored and four RBIs from their Nos. 5-8 hitters in the order.
"When you make mistakes on defense and the other team takes advantage, it normally does hit you in the solar plexus a bit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Javy's had that kind of experience on the bases. He's always heads up. If you watch him, he'll look behind as he's running to see what's going on. Going back in the day, you'd see Mays do that a lot. He's got extraordinary instincts on the bases."
"It seems like an exaggerated week. We've had some crazy comeback wins, and then these last two defeats have been kind of 'spank yous.' As long as we stay centered, and we're a really resilient team, I expect us to bounce back." -- Suter
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
After Knebel went down his injury, Counsell turned to utility man Perez to get the final out of the top of the ninth inning. He induced a Thomas La Stella fly out to preserve a 0.00 ERA after two appearances as a pitcher. Perez's other outing was on the road last July in Washington; the last Brewers position player to pitch at home was Joe Inglett in 2010.
Brewers: After allowing six hits, two earned runs and a pair of inherited runners to score in two uncomfortable relief appearances, right-hander Brandon Woodruff joins Milwaukee's starting rotation on Friday at 7:10 p.m. CT. It marks the first time the team has required a fifth starter this season. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks will make his second start of the season for the Cubs. He's 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA in eight career starts at Miller Park.
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Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.