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Estrada, Brewers' offense fall short in finale

Right-hander allows pair of homers as bats continue to struggle

CHICAGO -- March and April were fun, but now the Brewers will find out what they're really made of.

Marco Estrada struggled in his five innings, while the Brewers' bit of offense was loud but brief as the Crew lost Sunday's rubber match against the Cubs, 4-2, before 37,631 at Wrigley Field. The loss dropped Milwaukee to 7-9 in May after a 20-8 March/April.

The cause of Milwaukee's recent slide is undoubtedly the offense. The Brewers have averaged just 3.18 runs over their last 11 games, in which they've gone 5-6. The Brewers scored just six runs in three games against the Cubs, their lowest output in a three-game series this season since managing four in the season-opening series against the Braves.

"There's not much we can do," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We don't get enough guys on that we can get the runners going ... we'll have to figure out a way to get some baserunners on so we can create some problems."

Rickie Weeks snapped a 20-inning scoreless streak with a two-run homer that literally left the premises -- his blast made it beyond the left-center field bleachers and onto Waveland Avenue -- but it was all the Brewers' offense could manage against Travis Wood and the Cubs' bullpen. The Crew had just three hits a day after collecting four in a shutout loss.

"He didn't make any mistakes really. The one mistake he made I hit the ball out," Weeks said of Wood. "Other than that, the cutter in, he was spotting it dead on under the hands. He was painting that little sinker away. You can't do too much about that when a pitcher is going like that."

The Cubs hitters, meanwhile, hammered Estrada any time they made good contact. The Cubs took a 4-0 lead on Welington Castillo's two-run homer in the second, back-to-back two-out doubles by Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena in the third and a solo shot to left by Mike Olt leading off the fourth.

All six hits Estrada gave up were either a double or home run. He struck out four and walked two in five innings.

"Terrible. Plain and simple, terrible," Estrada said of his start. "I've got to figure things out. The off-speed pitches haven't been there and that's what's letting me down. Elevating the fastball when I'm not trying to. Plain and simple, it's just a bad-pitched game. I didn't even give the guys a chance."

As Estrada mentioned, it's the off-speed stuff that betrayed him most. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy talked on Saturday about how good Estrada's changeup is, and how important it is to his success. It just wasn't there on Sunday.

In the second, he left a changeup up to Castillo, who deposited the pitch in the basket in left. Valbuena tomahawked a high changeup down the line in right for the Cubs' third run, and without having to worry about an effective equalizer, Olt jumped on a high fastball for his homer to deep left-center.

"I had no feel for it, for sure," said Estrada of his changeup. "Mechanically, I felt fine. I maybe rushed it a little bit. I know I opened up a few times with the changeup and left it up, so I've just got to go back to the drawing board and fix it, plain and simple. I've got to fix the changeup because without it, I'm going to get hit around just like I did today."

"All the guys put together some pretty good at-bats and tried to get Estrada up, especially that changeup that fades out of the zone," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "They did a nice job. It was good to see that."

The Brewers cut the Cubs' lead in half in the fifth. Logan Schafer doubled with one out for the first hit off Wood and Weeks hit his homer two batters later. Other than that and Ryan Braun's double to lead off the ninth, Milwaukee's only other legitimate chance to score off Wood came in the first when the Brewers loaded the bases on free passes.

Jean Segura walked with one out and Lucroy and Mark Reynolds walked with two outs to fill the bases for Khris Davis. Wood walked Reynolds on four pitches, bringing Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio out of the dugout for a chat with his starter. Davis then offered at the first pitch and grounded out hard to third, where Olt made a nice diving play to get Wood out of the jam.

So did Roenicke have an issue going after the first pitch following a four-pitch walk?

"No. I think, you know, the pitching coach goes out, Bosio goes out to the mound and I'm sure he tells the guy, 'Hey, you need to work ahead,' and he probably had a really good pitch to hit," Roenicke said. "I thought [Davis] took a good swing, he just kind of got on top of it a little bit so, no, I don't have a problem with that."

Davis' aggressive nature is similar to that of most hitters in the lineup. Milwaukee hitters struck out 14 times Friday and Saturday and 11 times on Sunday.

"I don't like the free-swinging -- that's just our personality," Roenicke said. "I would much prefer guys be patient, get a pitch you want to hit, that's ideal. We don't have a lineup like that, so strikeouts go along with it. It's not something we teach, it's not something that I like, but that's the personnel that we have."

And so the scuffling Brewers move on to Atlanta, where they'll face a Braves pitching staff that leads all of a baseball with a 2.82 ERA. It doesn't seem like such great timing, but like Weeks said, "that's baseball."

"I think we talk about there's good pitching everywhere and your offense just has to be able to score some runs," Roenicke said. "Our pitching's still good, even with Marco, he was off today, [Matt] Garza's off the first inning and yet, we're still always in ball games. They're doing a great job to keep us in games and, offensively, we need to swing it."

Joe Popely is an associate reporter for
Read More: Milwaukee Brewers, Marco Estrada, Rickie Weeks