MILWAUKEE -- Yes, Miller Park faithful, the Brewers can beat the Cubs.In fact, after seven straight losses, they found a novel way to finally defeat their division rivals: Don't let them score a single run. Jhoulys Chacin, Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel combined for a six-hitter on Wednesday
MILWAUKEE -- Yes, Miller Park faithful, the Brewers can beat the Cubs.
In fact, after seven straight losses, they found a novel way to finally defeat their division rivals: Don't let them score a single run. Jhoulys Chacin, Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel combined for a six-hitter on Wednesday in Milwaukee's second straight shutout victory, 1-0, on Lorenzo Cain's third-inning home run.
"This series wasn't going to decide anything, but we know that's a team that's going to be there in the end," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "So wins against them are important. It was a fabulous series.
"This sounds like a broken record, but we pitched incredibly again."
More on that to come, but first the big picture: By taking the final two games of the series after losing eight of the first nine matchups between the teams in 2018, the Brewers increased their lead to 1 1/2 games over the Cubs in the National League Central.
"They've been the team to beat the last three years, and it's always good to beat them," said Chacin, who employed a new split-fingered fastball for the first time while working six innings. "They came back against Hader, one of the best relievers, in that first game, but to beat them in back-to-back shutouts is beating them how they beat us. That's a really good way to win two games in a series."
It marked the first time since 2006 that the Brewers blanked the Cubs in back-to-back games, though those victories came in a series finale and a series opener that were separated by two months. The Brewers had never shut out the Cubs on consecutive days.
That changed thanks to a pair of productive starts, first by Chase Anderson on Tuesday night and then Chacin on Wednesday. He retired the leadoff man in each of six innings, scattered four hits and three walks and struck out seven to improve to 6-0 with a 2.66 ERA over his past dozen starts.
The Brewers are 12-3 when Chacin takes the mound, but he is not the only Milwaukee starter on a roll. In the team's past 12 games, its starting pitchers have a 2.55 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .193 average.
"He's pitching. He's got some cunning and some craftiness out there, as well as good stuff," Counsell said.
Chacin's two-year, $15.5 million contract has proven one of the wisest investments of the offseason, even if it never garnered the attention of richer deals for the likes of the Cubs' Yu Darvish. That's fine with Chacin.
"I've never been a guy who wanted a lot of attention," Chacin said. "I just want to go out there and do my job. I was happy to sign here because I saw the chemistry last year. I'm 30 years old, but I've been in the big leagues a little bit longer, and I really want to win. This is a good young team."
Pitching has dominated the season series between the teams. Seven of the first 11 games have been shutouts -- five for Cubs pitchers. Chicago's staff ERA against Milwaukee is 1.28. Milwaukee's ERA against Chicago is 2.88, inflated by five earned runs in the 11th inning of Monday's series opener.
Cain's decisive homer came against Cubs starter Mike Montgomery, one of only two Brewers hits in the left-hander's six innings.
"Our pitching has been outstanding all year. Starting pitching, bullpen has been pretty much carrying our team," Cain said. "We definitely need to get going and score some more runs. We're definitely putting too much pressure on our pitchers as a whole."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Counsell's description of Chacin as "crafty" was particularly apt on a day the veteran debuted a new offering. The splitter, a pitch popular with teammates Junior Guerra and Jeffress, was a replacement for the changeup Chacin had been working on but struggled to command. Chacin estimated he threw as many as 20 splitters of his 100 pitches, mostly to left-handed hitters, including to the first one of the game, Benjamin Zobrist.
When Chacin needed to retire Anthony Rizzo with a pair of runners aboard in the fifth inning, he went to the splitter. It induced a weak groundout to first base, and that represented the Cubs' last opportunity with a man in scoring position.
"We had been working on the changeup since Spring Training, but I wasn't feeling comfortable with it," said Chacin, who credited pitching coach Derek Johnson for the idea. "He told me to grab it like my sinker, alter my finger a little bit. Sometimes it cuts, sometimes it almost goes up. … I kept throwing it. I think that's why I had a good game today."
The Brewers and Cubs have played 341 games against each other, but only two of those have been a 1-0 Milwaukee win. Before Wednesday, the last came on July 5, 2004, when Counsell's first-inning homer was the game's lone run.
Did Counsell remember that day?
"You would have had to prompt me a little bit," Counsell said.
HE SAID IT
"Always liked him, Citizen Cain. Outstanding player. Plays it hard, plays it right. Works pro at-bats all the time. He's a high-end baseball player. I've always been a big fan." -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon
A day after placing reliever Matt Albers on the 10-day disabled list, the Brewers had a diagnosis: right rotator cuff inflammation. Albers will take a break from throwing through the weekend before the team determines whether an MRI is required.
Another pitcher on the DL with a rotator cuff injury, Zach Davies, threw off a mound on Wednesday, but he remains three weeks or so removed from returning to the active roster. He will throw several more mound sessions before heading out for two or three rehab starts, Counsell said.
After taking two of three games from the Phillies last weekend at Citizens Bank Park, the Brewers will host a three-game rematch at Miller Park beginning at 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday. Brent Suter starts for Milwaukee, six days after benefitting from the Brewers' second straight 12-run outburst to beat the Phillies with five innings of three-run ball. Jacob Arrieta starts for Philadelphia.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.