The Cubs and Brewers have been doing a lot of scoreboard watching since they last met to keep an eye on each other in the National League Central Division standings. Starting Thursday, they'll be face to face.
The Cubs make their final regular season trip to Miller Park for a four-game series and possibly some payback against the Brewers, who swept their last meeting at Wrigley Field, Sept. 8-10. Milwaukee's pitching dominated in that series, holding Chicago to three runs.
Since that series, the Cubs have won seven of eight and have a 3 1/2-game lead in the Central.
• Up-to-the-minute standings
"They got us last time and they're not going to go away," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I've been a fan of theirs for the last two years. I think they've done a lot of good things. It's going to come down to us playing those games well."
Brewers manager Craig Counsell knows what they're up against.
"Look, they're playing pretty darn good," Counsell said of the Cubs. "They haven't lost since we were there, and that's starting to feel like a while ago. So, you know, they're putting together a pretty good stretch. This is kind of how it works in September. We've lost a couple games, but we're playing really well through this stretch. I'm proud of how our guys are playing, man. It'd be tough to complain about how we're playing, that's for sure."
Jacob Arrieta will return to the Cubs rotation on Thursday. This will be the third time the right-hander faces the Brewers this season. So far, he's 2-0 and allowed three earned runs over 13 innings. He has not started since Sept. 4, coming out of that game after 2 1/3 innings because of a right hamstring strain.
"Jake passed all the tests so he's ready to roll," Maddon said. "We'll probably have to have some kind of [pitch count] limit on him. Everything looks like it's in good shape."
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The Brewers will counter with Zach Davies, who limited the Cubs to one run over seven innings on Sept. 10. Davies was not surprised to see the Cubs respond to the Brewers' Wrigley sweep by going on a winning streak.
"That's what happens at this time of year, the best competition is going to come out," Davies said. "The teams that really want it are going to show it in September. I know that they have some playoff experience, and they know what it takes to get into the postseason, but our team has shown fight. Even though we don't have that experience, we're right there to the end and we're going to continue fighting. I think it's going to be a fun race right to the end."
He was looking forward to Thursday's challenge.
"It will be a big atmosphere there at Miller Park," Davies said. "It's going to be a fun four-game stretch against them. That sweep [at Wrigley Field] was a good thing for our team. It showed that we could go in there and sweep them at their place; now it's time for us to protect ours. It would be that much sweeter to do it again at our place, but it's going to take a lot of fight."
The Brewers' ability to stay in the race with the defending division champs is impressive considering this is a "rebuilding" year for the Milwaukee team. Since a six-game skid in early August dropped the Brewers back to .500 and prompted a players-only meeting, they are 22-11.
"Nobody expected it to happen," Davies said. "But I think everybody in this room expected us to be in this place. We knew we were going to exceed expectations, so we weren't going to place any on ourselves. We were just going to take care of what's going on inside our own clubhouse."
Milwaukee's Chase Anderson will start Sunday's series finale. If all goes the Cubs' way, they could clinch the division that day.
"The hardest thing for me is looking back at that 5 1/2-game lead at the [All-Star] break and me getting hurt," Anderson said. "We had the division -- I wouldn't say 'locked up,' but we had a really good chance to win the division if we continued to play well. But we're chasing from behind now. The Cubs are playing good baseball now. We know what happened last series [at Wrigley Field], so they're going to be ready to go, playing us at Miller Park. I'm looking forward to that series. They have the lead in the division; if they continue to win and we continue to win, it's going to be dogfight down to the end."
Keep an eye on the scoreboard.
"I swear, I looked up and they won again tonight, and I was like, 'Man!'" Brewers outfielder Brett Phillips said. "Hey, they want it just as bad as we want it."
• The rest of the Cubs' rotation for the series will be John Lackey on Friday, Kyle Hendricks on Saturday and Jose Quintana on Sunday. If the Cubs do have a concern, it's the bullpen. Closer Wade Davis pitched in four consecutive games, and the Cubs are waiting for the healthy return of Hector Rondon and Koji Uehara.
"When you win seven in a row, the A-listers in your bullpen get a lot of work," Maddon said. "You have to be cognizant of that going into the next series. If I had one concern, it's overusing the bullpen."
• The Brewers have won 12 of their past 16 home games, including taking two of three from the Marlins last weekend in a series relocated from Miami in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Even though the Brewers played all three games as the road team, the stats and results counted on their home record.
• The Cubs' Kristopher Bryant's slash line in six games at Miller Park this season is .480/.552/.720, while Addison Russell is batting .348 in six games there.
• Milwaukee's Eric Thames has hit 20 of his home runs at Miller Park. Entering Wednesday, only eight Major Leaguers had hit more homers at home.
• Despite a rare hiccup in his most recent start against the Marlins (six earned runs in four innings), Davies is 10-5 with a 2.74 ERA over his past 16 starts. He has a 3.96 ERA in four starts this year against the Cubs, but that is skewed high by an April 9 loss at Miller Park in which the Cubs touched Davies for seven hits and five earned runs. His three subsequent starts against the Cubs have been quality starts.
• Opponents have hit just .196 in 168 at-bats against Arrieta's sinker over his past 10 starts, during which he has thrown the pitch nearly two-thirds of the time. That's the lowest average allowed among starters who have ended at least 50 at-bats on sinkers/two-seamers since July 1.