MILWAUKEE -- The Cubs came into Tuesday night playing .750 baseball and scoring runs at a ferocious pace, 5.94 per game.Their mound opponent for this game, Chase Anderson of the Brewers, had a 6.11 earned-run average for the season. Over his last five starts, his ERA had been 8.88.The Cubs
MILWAUKEE -- The Cubs came into Tuesday night playing .750 baseball and scoring runs at a ferocious pace, 5.94 per game.
Their mound opponent for this game, Chase Anderson of the Brewers, had a 6.11 earned-run average for the season. Over his last five starts, his ERA had been 8.88.
The Cubs had won seven straight games at Miller Park, dating back to August of last season. With the roof closed, this is a hitters' park. With the roof open this is a hitters' park. The Cubs hitters, who have been battling pitcher-friendly winds nearly all season at Wrigley Field, would be happy to hit in Tuesday night's climate-controlled circumstances, with the roof closed and the wind merely a rumor of outside activity.
It was all set up for the Cubs to clobber Anderson and the Brewers and underscore their position as the juggernaut of 2016. The whole situation fairly shouted: "Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!"
But, this being baseball, the night was ruled by surprise. The Cubs didn't have a runner on base against Anderson until the sixth. And they didn't get a hit against him until the eighth, when Ben Zobrist doubled leading off the inning.
It is true, that with two outs in the ninth, with Anderson one strike away from a one-hit shutout, Jason Heyward hit his first home run of the season. And then Kris Bryant homered.
This was the way the Cubs were supposed to be hitting all night, wasn't it? The Brewers' lead had been cut in half, maybe there was still time. Nope. Brewers closer Jeremy Jeffress struck out Anthony Rizzo to end the game, a 4-2 Brewers win.
The Cubs were left to marvel at Anderson's command. He walked only one and struck out six. "He was hitting his spots with every pitch," Heyward said. "He also had a lot of loud outs."
There were definitely some of those. In the very first inning, Dexter Fowler led off with a drive just to the right of center field. It was caught on the warning track. With two out in the first, Bryant hit a drive to center that was turned into an out only by a leaping grab at the wall by Milwaukee center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
When he hit it, Bryant thought the ball was gone. "Maybe that could have changed the whole complexion of the game," he said. "He made a great catch, but I thought I hit it pretty good.
"Their pitcher was really good today. He made a lot of good pitches and was really on his game. His command of the fastball, at least to me, inside, was pretty good. And then mixing up the changup and the curveball, obviously I think he liked his changeup a lot to both righties and lefties. You've got to give credit where credit is due and he pitched a really good game."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was forced to walk that thin line between crediting his hitters with solid approaches, and yet not diminishing the work of the opposing pitcher who had stopped those hitters.
"We actually had a lot of good swings tonight," Maddon said. "I have no remorse with that. Put a lot of balls in play, but we just didn't have any luck. [Anderson] did pitch well; I'm not taking anything away from him. He probably got more ground balls than we thought he would get. But overall I was not displeased with our swings tonight."
This all came under the heading of a phenomenon that Maddon had discussed before the game. A lesser team, or a team that is struggling, plays a team that is going very well. The lesser team lifts its level to meet that of the opposition.
The Cubs, with their "embrace the target" approach, are very familiar with that.
"When we play anybody right now, outside of the teams that already have targets on their backs, we're going to see that kind of performance," Maddon said.
On the other side of this equation are the rebuilding Brewers, in an organizational spot that the rebuilt Cubs have left for loftier circumstances. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell explained going against seemingly superior opposition this way:
"The better the quality of the competition, the less your margin for error. That holds in any sport that you play, in any competition that you're in. If you're going against good competition, you've got to be a little bit finer with everything, a little bit better with everything. But your best is good enough. I think we've shown that."
Tuesday night, against the Cubs and against form, Anderson and the Brewers were, surprisingly or not, good enough.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.