CHICAGO -- The Cubs could afford to lose Monday's game. They can't afford to lose Jonathan Lester.
Brewers starter Wade Miley was stingy and the Milwaukee offense pesky in a 3-2 victory at Wrigley Field to pull within one game of the first-place Cubs. The Crew has now won six of the last eight matchups between these teams with two more remaining.
"You've got to tip your hat sometimes to good hitting, and that's what they did," Lester said of the Brewers.
Lester started on short rest because he pitched only one inning on Friday against the Nationals before play was stopped due to rain. On Monday night, he seemed to land awkwardly after striking out Jonathan Schoop for the second out in the sixth. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras signaled to the dugout and both athletic trainer PJ Mainville and manager Joe Maddon checked on the left-hander, who stayed in the game. Lester then gave up back-to-back hits before being pulled because of back spasms.
Mike Moustakas was on third and the game tied at 2 when C.J. Edwards took over. His first offering skipped past Contreras for a wild pitch, allowing Moustakas to score the go-ahead run.
Moustakas was ready.
"Eddie [Sedar, Milwaukee's third-base coach] actually told me, 'Hey, look for a wild pitch right here and get down the line and try to score,'" Moustakas said. "And it happened. I was able to get down there. It worked out pretty well for us."
Maddon's plan was to have Edwards finish the sixth, then turn to the rest of the bullpen.
"Once Jon was in the situation he was in, get Carl out there, get one out, let him walk off the field and feel good about himself," Maddon said of his plan.
But it didn't work out that way.
"We need to get Carl straightened out," Maddon said. "The symmetry of the bullpen is different without him out there. His skill set is really important to us. We have to get him right."
Lester doesn't expect to miss his next turn in the rotation, but he will be re-evaluated on Tuesday.
"I didn't feel it on one particular thing," he said. "I don't know if it happened when I swung and missed in the [fifth] inning. When I hit, I came back in and was fine and I went to stand up and it didn't feel all that great. I don't know if that was it, or Friday to today or what. I don't think it'll be anything that'll stick around. I think we'll be fine tomorrow."
Lester was vying for his 16th win. Instead, he was charged with three runs on eight hits, striking out seven over 5 2/3 innings while falling to 15-6.
The Cubs need all hands on deck for the final stretch of games. They don't have a day off until Sept. 20 because of a makeup game scheduled for Thursday against the Nationals.
"It's tough. It's really tough," Cubs shortstop Addison Russell said of the club's current stretch. "I feel like this year -- the rain delays have been the story of this year. We played a tough schedule, and then this back stretch, being on for 23 days, and then maybe even going back to Washington. The schedule has been brutal this year, but we have no choice but to go through it and strap it on whenever it's game time."
Before this week's showdown, Maddon was asked why the Cubs haven't been able to eliminate the Brewers.
"Because they're good," Maddon said. "We have to play at the top of our game to beat them. It's not easy putting the Brewers away."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Scoring opportunities: The Cubs tied the game at 1 in the first when Kristopher Bryant doubled with one out, moved up on a throwing error by Miley on a botched pickoff attempt, and then scored on Anthony Rizzo's groundout. In the fifth, Contreras' hustle paid off as he doubled, then advanced on Lester's flyout. Both Russell and Daniel Murphy walked to set up a sacrifice fly by Bryant that tied the game at 2.
"We gave ourselves some chances today, but probably not as many as we would've liked," Murphy said. "Unfortunately, at the top of the lineup, I had two chances to start innings off. Couldn't do it in the first and the [third]."
In the Cubs' last three losses to the Brewers, they've scored six runs. It doesn't help that they have to deal with lefty reliever Josh Hader, who struck out all six batters he faced over two innings on Monday.
"What are you going to do with that? He's basically Chris Sale from a relief standpoint with his angle," Lester said of Hader.
"We have to be tighter with our pitching, and beyond that, we have to hit the ball," Maddon said. "We pitched well enough to win that game, no question. The games we've lost recently, we've pitched well. We've got to get our offense back in order. … We haven't been making the hard contact that we're capable of. To score two runs again, we have to be more offensive."
The Brewers' Christian Yelich and the Cubs' Benjamin Zobrist began this series first and third in the National League batting race, respectively. However, the Reds' Scooter Gennett went 4-for-5 on Monday night and took over the lead with a .320 average. Yelich has reached base in a season-high 26 straight games, the longest active streak in the NL. He is batting .315. Zobrist went 2-for-4 and is batting .314.
THEY SAID IT
"I think we're fine. Other than the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday [against the Nationals], I don't feel like we're playing bad baseball. Tonight we beat ourselves, but that happens. I feel like there is a game in Milwaukee when we beat ourselves as well. Any time you go on the road for however many days that was, if you come out a game or two at .500 with the amount of games we played in a row, I think guys feel good about it. It just so happens we catch these guys on the back end of this stretch. Tonight was a good, clean baseball game. You've got to tip your hat sometimes." -- Lester
"As long as we take care of business, that's all we can control. Obviously, we've been playing some pretty good baseball, but you know, that's a great team over there, and they're not going to go away. They're not going to just give it up. We have to go out there every single day, keep fighting, keep grinding and go to win a ballgame each and every night." -- Moustakas
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Domingo Santana was at second with one out in the ninth when Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler threw to Murphy at second base. Santana was called out on the pickoff, as he slid into Murphy's foot and never reached the bag. The Brewers challenged, but the ruling was confirmed after review.
Jose Quintana (12-9, 4.14 ERA) will start the second game of the Cubs' NL Central showdown against Jhoulys Chacin (14-6, 3.59) and the Brewers at 7:05 CT Tuesday night in the MLB Network Showcase Game. Quintana is 6-3 with a 4.88 ERA at Wrigley Field. This will be a rematch of a game last Wednesday at Miller Park, where Quintana gave up two earned runs over 6 2/3 innings for the win. Chacin took the loss, serving up five runs (three earned) over 4 2/3 innings.