As Curtis Granderson hit his near home-run to start off the first inning of Wednesday’s Milwaukee Brewers win at Wrigley Field, you could tell that things wouldn’t be easy for the North Siders in this very important rubber match in the most important series of the season to this point.
As Granderson, like the true South Sider he is (TF South stand up), finished his night with an actual home run in the ninth inning — following a single and that triple from the first — it became official: this wasn’t going to be the Chicago Cubs’ night (5-1 loss), nor their series (2 out of 3 lost) and for the first time this season, really in three seasons, the Cubs’ regular season mortality is an issue again.
The Cubs are in an amazing run of success, busting out of over 100 years of heartache and mediocrity to become something like postseason mainstays with an unprecedented generation of players built up by team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
What resulted from the Epstein/Hoyer teardown and rebuild is three straight postseason appearances, starting with a wild card berth for the baby Cubs in 2015. Following that up with the historic 2016 championship run and with a third straight appearance in the NLCS in 2017, the Cubs reasonably made themselves a postseason lock coming into the 2018 season, likely as National League Central champions for a third consecutive season.
As of now the Cubs are still in position to win the Central, which they only need one game to do, but that one game is all they got and them Brewers are looking greedy.
Milwaukee has bid down on what is a rare chance for them to take control of the Central, working off the momentum of somewhat competing with the Cubs in September of last year, the kind of watershed competitive moment that could allow a mostly young roster such as theirs a chance to dream bigger and assert themselves.
It’s the assertion of Milwaukee, whose year-long campaign to compile talent to try and match Chicago’s extended as recently as the end of last month when they got Granderson from Toronto and with Wednesday as exhibit A this is another successful move for them to follow up their pitching maneuvers (Joakim Soria, Gio Gonzalez) which have been done to match Wisconsin’s team better with their Southern neighbors in a key element of the game.
To see Milwaukee with pitching is deadly for the Cubs cause the Brewers are already a team that can hit and arguably in some ways hit better than the Cubs with more contributions from more spots in the lineup.
The Cubs, who have hit inconsistently and continue to do so, do not need to see real pitching from the Brewers. As we saw in this series, Josh Hader is a big enough threat for the Cubs, showing his problematic nature extends beyond Twitter.
If only the Cubs could shame away Hader… that would be great for a team that would like to depict itself as Ali against Liston in this matchup but it may be closer to Ali against Foreman.
A rope-a-dope strategy allowed Ali to sneak out of Zaire with his legacy a great as ever, as of now the Cubs are not on the ropes, but they are shuffling nearby, and with a devastating final stretch in progress rest-wise some time leaning on the cords may be needed if the Cubs want to maintain their role as The Greatest of the Central.
Its hard, but this is what comes with being the champ — the more you defend you find yourself not getting any younger, but the contenders typically do.
In the case of these Brewers, coming with a mix of young — and old in the case of Granderson — they are feeling in the best shape of their life right now after a seventh straight series win and second straight against the Cubs.
The Cubs-Brewers battle of 2018 is now a slugfest that’s ready for the championship rounds. Time to show and prove.
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