Last strikes: Cubs 5, Brewers 2

MILWAUKEE – Seventeen last strikes for the 17 batters faced by Brewers’ relievers in Milwaukee’s 5-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday evening.

1. The Milwaukee Brewers entered the ninth inning of Saturday’s game with the Chicago Cubs holding a 2-1 lead thanks to Lorenzo Cain’s sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. Without closer Corey Knebel available, manager Craig Counsell turned to Jacob Barnes to record the final three outs of the game for the Brewers.

2. From that point on, things could not have gone much worse for Milwaukee.

3. While Barnes is handed the loss in relief, placing the blame solely on him would be foolish. Barnes didn’t pitch poorly, but rather the defense failed him.

4. The Brewers potentially had an opportunity to end the game when Cubs infielder Javy Baez stepped to the plate. There were runners on first and second with one out when Baez hit a two-hopper to third baseman Travis Shaw. Shaw was unable to field the ball – which possibly could have resulted in a game-ending double play – leaving the bases loaded with one out.

5. “It was a tough hop, there’s no question it was an in-between hop,” Counsell said of the ball Shaw mis-handled. “Doubtful that we would’ve turned two. I was just thinking [one] out when he hit it.”

6. Utility man Ben Zobrist then stepped to the dish and knocked a grounder in the vicinity of first baseman Eric Thames. Thames made a terrific diving stop to get the ball but was hesitant in his decision making on the play. He eventually flipped the ball to first base with Barnes covering, but Barnes was late getting to the bag and entirely missed it, resulting in a game-tying infield single for Zobrist.

7. “It’s part of the game, unfortunately,” Barnes said of the ninth inning collapse. “You execute pitches and unfortunately sometimes it kind of goes in the wrong spot. That’s all you can do. I look back on it and obviously it’s frustrating and no one wants to ever give up runs but I think I executed pretty well for the most part and unfortunately, they were able to find some holes and get some infield hits.”

8. Those back-to-back plays cost the Brewers an early season win. Chicago’s Ian Happ promptly stepped to the plate and laced a two-run single into left center and moved up to second base on Cain’s throw into third base. After an intentional walk to Kris Bryant, Chicago’s Jon Lester pinch hit for pitcher Pedro Strop and dropped down a squeeze bunt scoring Zobrist from third.

9. “[Barnes] pitched great. He broke probably three bats that inning,” Counsell said. “In the end we had a play to make on one of those and we just couldn’t make a play. I’m not sure on the first ball there’s an out to be had. Zobrist’s ball, I think there’s an out in there somewhere and certainly on Baez’s ball there’s an out.

10. “We’ve made too many infield mistakes, there’s no question,” Counsell said. “I think they are a good defensive infield, we’ve made defensive mistakes the past couple days.”

11. Whether or not the Brewers will be considered a good defensive infield – or team — at the end of the year is obviously yet to be known. What is factual is the fact that Milwaukee has committed 11 errors through six games on this home stand.

12. That doesn’t include plays like the one Thames and Barnes failed to execute at first base in the ninth and the ball Cain struggled to find in the sun on Bryant’s triple in the eighth. They can certainly be a good defensive team when it is all said and done, but they have not been one thus far.

13. All Milwaukee could muster in the bottom of the ninth was a single from Shaw before this one officially became a loss, and a wasted pitching performance from starter Zach Davies.

14. Davies was tremendous on the day, as was his counterpart, Yu Darvish of the Cubs. Davies struck out eight over six innings allowing one earned run on the day. Darvish went six innings as well, allowing two hits and one earned run while striking out nine.

15. The only damage done to the starting pitchers came by virtue of solo home runs. Thames launched a ball to the second deck in left field to open the scoring in the fourth for the Brewers. Bryant went deep off Davies in the sixth, a 407-foot blast into the seats in left field.

16. It’s far too early to panic, or even fret about this loss for Brewers fans. Teams lose games, it happens to all 30 franchises in baseball. But it’s the way the game was lost that makes this one a frustrating loss. It’s also a game that could potentially be looked back at near the end of the season as one that could have helped the Brewers in the playoff race.

17. The Brewers and Cubs finish off the four-game set on Sunday afternoon at 1:10PM CT at Miller Park. Chase Anderson will start for the Brewers and José Quintana will take the mound for the Cubs.

Milwaukee blows late lead, loses 5-3 in 10 innings to Chicago

For a second straight night the Milwaukee Brewers lost in agonizing fashion, this time a 5-3 setback to the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs.

Manager Craig Counsell’s club took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning against the defending World Series champions, only to see shortstop Javy Baez drive in the tying run off of Jeremy Jeffress with two strikes and two down.

“(Jeffress) did a great job. He did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Counsell said. “He threw a ball on the last pitch (to Baez), that looked to me like it was just off the ground, and (Baez) just rolled a ball up the middle.”

Milwaukee loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning, but couldn’t get a run across. In the 10th, Chicago’s Kris Bryant drilled what proved to be the game-winning 2-run homer off of Oliver Drake.

The loss came a night after the Brewers blew a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning to Pittsburgh, who went on to win the game 6-4.

“Two tough games,” Counsell said of the missed opportunities. “We’re still sitting, to me, in a pretty good spot, where we can play well for the last nine days and still do something good. Every loss is going to be incredibly tough right now.”

Chicago pushed its lead in the NL Central to 4 ½ games on the second-place Brewers, and while it seems a bit much to ask to catch the Cubs, Milwaukee is still, like Counsell said, in good shape playoff-wise. That’s thanks to Colorado, which has lost three straight and still holds just a one-game lead on the Brewers, with St. Louis a ½ game back of them.

“Having multiple options to get into the playoffs is nice, but (this) is a big series regardless of that wild card issue,” pitcher Zach Davies said. “We’ve got three games left (with the Cubs). We’ll take it to them the next three.”

Milwaukee and Chicago will play game No. 2 of the four-game series at Miller Park on Friday night with first pitch coming at 6:35 p.m.

Milwaukee falls to the Reds 9-3, loses ground in NL playoff chase

Cincinnati used a five-run seventh inning to break open a close game on its way to a 9-3 win over Milwaukee Tuesday night.

It was a night of missed opportunities for the Brewers. They loaded the bases in the fourth inning with no outs and managed to not score a single run thanks to three straight strikeouts. Then, while trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, Milwaukee got the tying run to third with one out but was unable to bring him in. For the night, the Brewers drew 10 walks but went just 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

The issues weren’t confined to the offense. After Zach Davies went 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on six hits, the bullpen fell apart. The trio of Jacob Barnes, Wei Chung Wang and Carlos Torres proceeded to allow seven runs in two innings, including serving up a three-run homer to former Milwaukee second baseman Scooter Gennett.

For the Brewers, the loss was their third in the last four games and it dropped them 2 ½ games back of the Rockies for the second wild card spot in the National League. They missed an opportunity to gain ground on Chicago, which has lost its last two games as well.

Milwaukee will look to avoid the three-game sweep in Cincinnati Wednesday afternoon. First pitch is at 12:35 p.m.

Davies, Villar help the Brewers earn 6-3 win over Washington

Jonathan Villar continued to swing a hot bat as Milwaukee earned a 6-3 win in the opener of its 4-game set with the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.

The second baseman collected three hits, including a 2-run homer in the fifth inning. It came a night after he had three RBIs and he concluded the month of August batting .364. It was a significant departure from the struggles he’s had much of the season.

“It’s huge,” pitcher Zach Davies said of Villar’s big night. “We know what role he had last year and how big of a part of the team he was. Just him having continued success and getting on a roll himself, it’s huge for the team.”

Davies had a pretty good night himself. He went seven innings, giving up two runs on six hits and picked up his 16th win on the year – tied for the most in the majors.

Closer Corey Knebel came on in the ninth to collect his 31st save of the season.

The win allowed Milwaukee to move within 2 ½ games of the Colorado Rockies in the race for the final wildcard spot, and kept them 3 ½ games back of Chicago in the NL Central.

It’ll be Milwaukee and Washington again Friday night at Miller Park. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m.

Davies’ start goes to waste in 2-0 loss to Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — Starting pitcher Zach Davies allowed zero earned runs, but the Milwaukee Brewers offense stalled in a 2-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants Monday night.

Davies struck out five Giants batters, while scattering six hits. He also went 1-for-2 at the plate, one of just four Brewers hits in the game. As Davies took his seventh loss of the season, opposing starter Chris Stratton took an unconventional approach to victory.

In what ended up being San Francisco’s first home shutout of the season, Stratton only fanned a single Milwaukee batter in the win (Keon Broxton). Only three times did Milwaukee get in scoring position against Stratton, while the Giants hurler extended his scoreless streak to 12.2 innings.

Due to the limited number of scoring opportunities Milwaukee found itself in, mistakes were amplified. Stephen Vogt stood on first base with two outs in the fourth inning, then attempted to head home after Orlando Arcia aggressively ran the basepaths after dumping a ball out to right field. Vogt was thrown out at home, killing a scoring chance for the Brewers and failing to provide offense to back Davies’ work on the mound.

“It was a tough battle tonight,” said Davies. “Those games are going to happen and it’s not always going to be perfect. That was my job to try and keep us as close as possible. Hopefully we could have strung a rally together. Unfortunately we didn’t.”

Milwaukee falls 2½ behind the Chicago Cubs for the NL Central lead while trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks by 3½ games for the final wild card spot.

Broxton backs Davies in win over Pirates

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers avoided dropping in the National League Central standings by taking down the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday night 3-1 at Miller Park.

Zach Davies collected his 14th win of the year as he tossed 6.2 innings, allowing one run on six hits. Manny Piña backed him up with a pair of RBI, while Keon Broxton added a late-game insurance run with a pinch-hit solo blast in the seventh inning.

“Any run that we can scratch on at the end of the game really helps our team, helps the pitchers,” Broxton said. “It makes it tough on the other team, knowing they have to get an extra run. It’s not just one [run] to tie the game up, so yeah, that was a clutch home run.”

Newcomer Neil Walker continued to impress, making one of the more important defensive plays of the game. With the game tied at 1-1 in the sixth inning, Walker made a sliding stop of an infield grounder, tossing the ball over to first base in time to stop a run from scoring.

Closer Corey Knebel also notched his 23rd save of the year.

Minnesota finishes off a sweep of the Brewers

Milwaukee’s tumble down the NL Central standings continued on Thursday night thanks to a 7-2 loss to Minnesota at Miller Park.

The Twins scored three runs each in the second and third innings off of Zach Davies, who went 5 2/3rds innings, allowing 11 hits overall on the way to his sixth loss of the season. The six earned runs he gave up were two more than he had given up in the previous 28 2/3rds innings of work he’d seen.

Meanwhile, the Brewers bats continued their extended vacation as it’s now been 14 games since Milwaukee scored more than four runs. On Thursday, all the offense had was a solo home run by Keon Broxton in the second and then bases loaded walk that scored a run.

The loss was Milwaukee fifth straight, and dropped them into third in the division, a game back of St. Louis and two games back of Chicago.

Cincinnati will come to town on Friday to start a weekend series. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m.

Davies masterful in shutout win over Rays

TAMPA, Fla. — It was his first career start against the Tampa Bay Rays, but you wouldn’t know it as Zach Davies led the Milwaukee Brewers to a 3-0 win Saturday night.

Davies logged seven innings, allowing just one hit on the way to his 13th win of the year. Jacob Barnes and Anthony Swarzak finished it off with just three hits allowed between them.

Milwaukee’s offense was held relatively quiet in Alex Cobb’s six innings for Tampa Bay. They logged five hits against him, one of which was a solo home run by Orlando Arcia in the third inning. That would prove to be Milwaukee’s only scoring until a key ninth inning.

That’s when Hernan Perez went to work, leading off the inning with a solo shot to set the tone for the rest of the inning. With the bases loaded, Jose Alvarado was charged with a wild pitch, allowing Jesus Aguilar to score from third base.

But it wasn’t all good news for the Brewers. In the second inning, third baseman Travis Shaw was hit in the head as the Rays tried to throw him out as he attempted to steal second base. He left the game and did not return, though an initial evaluation has him listed as day-to-day with a bruised neck.

Davies’ performance followed up a 2-0 win on Friday night, giving Milwaukee it’s first set of back-to-back shutout wins since 2013.

Brewers keep slumping as Cubs take series at Miller Park

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers have struggled to find offensive rhythm and that was the case again Sunday afternoon in a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park.

The Brewers were baffled by John Lackey, who allowed five hits over six innings, while fanning seven. He earned his eighth win of the year while Milwaukee’s Zach Davies took his fifth loss, despite a respectable box score of seven innings, three earned runs, and six strikeouts.

“Offensively, we just haven’t been very good,” Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw said. “Our pitching staff did their job this series. I thought the bullpen did a really good job and Davies, another great quality start for us today. It’s just offensively, we did not come up with the clutch hit. There’s ruts like that throughout the season. Obviously, we were really good in the first half offensively. We just have to find a way to get going.”

Chicago didn’t have any trouble getting offense from unexpected places. Fill-in first baseman Victor Caratini launched a go-ahead solo homer in the seventh inning, which led to a solo blast from Kris Bryant in the following frame. It was the Cubs’ 13th win in 16 outings, also expanding their lead in the National League Central to 2 ½ games over the Brewers.

The Brewers did manage to set a club record in the loss, though one they’ll likely try to forget. Milwaukee has gone hitless with runners in scoring position 31 consecutive times, breaking a record set in 1987 when the Brewers went 0-for-30.

“I don’t think anybody in this clubhouse is too worried about this one series,” Davies said. “Yeah, it would have been nice to switch up the standings again, but there’s still 55 games or so left to play and we’re going to go out and compete in every one of them.”

Milwaukee welcomes St. Louis on Tuesday night where the Cardinals look to secure their 14th straight series in Milwaukee.

Offense backs career-best start for Davies in win over Nationals

WASHINGTON — The Milwaukee Brewers went from playing one of the league’s worst teams to one of the league’s best, but that didn’t stop them from beating the Washington Nationals 8-0 Tuesday night behind a strong start from Zach Davies.

Davies went 7.2 innings, giving up just three hits while striking out seven. It’s the deepest into a game he’s gone in his career, but just the third time he’s gone at least seven innings this season — though all three have come in the last month.

“He was really good in [his last start] and this was more of the same,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Davies’ most recent performance. “His off-speed the last two games has been working about as good as it can and all four pitches he’s using them very effectively…two in a row really good ones for Zach.”

The win kept pace with the Chicago Cubs, who beat the Chicago White Sox earlier in the day. Milwaukee now regains sole possession of first place in the National League Central after losing seven of the previous eight games and watching a 5 ½ game lead disappear in less than two weeks.

“At this time for us, it’s time to get going,” Davies said. “It’s time for us to separate ourselves and get back to the way we were playing in the first half. Especially making a statement against a good team like [the Nationals], it’s to say that we’re here to stay.”

But Davies didn’t get the win on his own. The Milwaukee offense produced a trio of home runs (Travis Shaw in the fourth inning, and Eric Thames and Manny Piña in the fifth inning) on the way to the victory.  That success might have been a product of a lineup change after Counsell moved Thames to fifth in the batting order. He had previously only batted second or third.

Jimmy Nelson will try to keep the momentum moving for Milwaukee when he gets the start opposite Gio Gonzalez on Wednesday night.