The good news is, the Cubs had more than twice as many hits Friday as they had the last time they hosted the Brewers at Wrigley Field — in a Game 163 tiebreaker to end the 2018 regular season.
The bad news is, this time the Cubs forgot to score even a single run.
As hot as the Cubs have been for the last month, a 7-0 loss to a division rival in the opener of a three-game series isn’t going to set off any alarm bells. Last October’s 3-1 tiebreaker defeat was a tire fire of frustration for a team whose offense was, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein put it, “broken.” This was barely a passing nuisance.
“It’s one loss,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Best-out-of-three series. Let’s go home, have a good night’s sleep and come back [Saturday].”
Still, it had to bring back twinges of some familiar, unpleasant feelings for the Cubs and for charged-up fans who watched the team streak to 19 wins in 24 games heading into this series.
For one thing, the Cubs (22-14) have dropped 11 of their last 15 meetings with the Brewers (24-16), including that tiebreaker. It would be hard for anyone to deny that there’s been a shift in the hierarchy between the teams, although the Cubs currently lead the Central Division by percentage points.
And in far too many of the head-to-head matchups, the Cubs have been flummoxed by Brewers pitching. This time, it was starter Gio Gonzalez getting the job done, followed by five relievers — none of them named Josh Hader, the spectacular lefty who will be fresh for the rest of the weekend.
“I think over the last year, or half-year, we’ve not done as well against their pitching staff in general,” Maddon said. “We’ve got to figure them out.”
The Cubs still easily lead the National League in run differential. Although their streak of 15 games with at least one home run — their longest during a single season since 2002 — came to a close, there still are too many hitters making too much quality contact to think of Friday’s punchless performance as more than a blip.
The offense most definitely isn’t broken.
Nevertheless, what now is still a terrific 6-2 homestand has been tarnished a bit by a game that looked a heck of a lot like one of those miserable 40 in 2018 when the Cubs’ offense mustered one or zero runs. Three of those 40 came at the bitter end, including a 2-1 loss to the Rockies in the wild-card game.
It probably added to the sense of familiarity that Jose Quintana (4-2) took the ball for the Cubs for a strong, but futile, effort in his team-high fifth quality start of the season. Quintana also was on the mound for, and pitched well in, Game 163.
And the Brewers have won seven in a row after a lull that allowed the Cubs to streak past them in the standings. This isn’t the nearly unbeatable Milwaukee squad that coalesced into a titan down the stretch last season, but it’s still a daunting group.
“It’s the best division in baseball,” infielder David Bote said.
This wasn’t the Cubs at their sharpest. Javy Baez was thrown out by catcher Yasmani Grandal trying to steal third base in the second inning. First baseman Anthony Rizzo made a terrible decision to throw home on a seventh-inning ground ball; Grandal easily beat the throw. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras threw a ball into right field on a pickoff attempt at first base.
There’s something about these Brewers that makes the Cubs appear less than their best.
“We definitely know how to bounce back,” Bote said. “And that’s what we’re going to do.”