Cubs

Cubs keep showing Brewers why they're dominating rivalry: 'There are no tight butts'

Cubs keep showing Brewers why they're dominating rivalry: 'There are no tight butts'

MILWAUKEE - If the Cubs weren't in the Brewers' heads before, they surely are now.

The Cubs have now won 8 of 9 against their division rivals this season and stand alone in first place in the National League Central.

The Brewers blew a 2-1 lead Monday night in front of another chapter in the Wrigley North Takeover and saw the Cubs dismantle the strongest part of this team — their bullpen.

The Cubs made the formidable Josh Hader look human as they plated the tying run off the young left-hander in the top of the 8th inning and then unloaded on former White Sox pitcher Matt Albers for 5 runs in the 11th.

This is the first time all year Hader has worked in a game the Brewers lost and since he was forced to throw 35 pitches, he will definitely not pitch Tuesday and may be down for Wednesday's series finale as well. Corey Knebel threw 25 pitches to get 4 outs Monday, so the Cubs guaranteed he would only be able to work one of the next two games of the series at most.

To put it simply: Things are not looking great for the Brewers.

"I don't think there's ever any sense of panic with what happens," said Anthony Rizzo, who drew a walk off Hader and hit a homer off Albers to begin the 11th. "They have a guy that's unhittable come in the game and we somehow scratch a run off of him and no one's fazed.

"It's just grind at-bats out. It's an organization-wide mentality of not giving up and we do a good job with that."

No matter what way you slice it right now, the Cubs are the clear big brother in this rivalry.

They have the experience in high-pressure games. They have the talent. They have the attitude.

And now they have sole possession of first place (for now, at least).

"Our guys are loose cannons in the dugout," Joe Maddon said. "There are no tight butts. It's kind of interesting to listen to the conversation, even in a tight game.

"They're in the present tense and that's all I can ask for."

The Cubs won't take any of this for granted. Even with such a ridiculous start in the season series between the two teams, the Brewers are talented enough to win the next 10 straight against their neighbors to the South and finish over .500 against the Cubs.

But for now, the Cubs will take it.

"Yeah, it feels good," Rizzo said. "It's fun playing here. They have a good team, the fans are into it, they're engaged. You got the Cubs fans and the Brewers fans going at it all game.

"These are tough games, we know they're tough games. It's which way is the ball gonna fall and for us, fortunately this year, they've fallen our way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Happ Demoted & Bold Predictions

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Happ Demoted & Bold Predictions

Baseball is finally here! Luke Stuckmeyer & David Kaplan discuss the surprising move to send Ian Happ to the minors to start the 2019 season and the message it sends to the team (2:00), as well as the report from The Athletic that details the changes the Cubs are making to their day-to-day operations this season (8:00). Finally, Kap and Luke make some bold predictions about what will happen this season, including thoughts on Yu Darvish, Addison Russell, and Joe Maddon (11:45).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

19 for 19: Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?

19 for 19: Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?

We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.

Next up: Are the Cubs the best team in the NL Central?

The entire National League is much improved, with superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper staying in the league despite signing with new teams and other really good players moving over from the American League - Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson, etc.

The NL Central is also quite a bit better, with the Reds making big moves to jump into potential contention and join the other four teams in the division that all finished over .500 a year ago.

The Pirates didn't have a busy offseason (do they ever?), but the Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt (then locked him up long-term) and Andrew Miller while the Brewers filled a major hole by adding Yasmani Grandal and bringing back Mike Moustakas and now they might add Craig Kimbrel, too.

You already know the story about the Cubs' offseason, where their biggest signings were Brad Brach and Daniel Descalso. Coupled with a return to health from some big names (Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, eventually maybe Brandon Morrow), is that enough to vault the Cubs to the top of the division once again?

It's very possible. The Cubs won 95 games last year despite a whole bunch going wrong - from injuries to a grueling schedule to steps back from key young players like Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber.

Right now, I like the Cubs' chances at outlasting the rest of the division because of their depth. The bullpen is the only hole on the roster, and there's no guarantee it will even be a sore spot for the team this year given how volatile relievers are from year to year. 

They also have the star power with three of the best all-around players in the division (Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez) and a supporting cast that certainly has the potential to be excellent (Contreras, Schwarber, Descalso, Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr., Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, David Bote). 

Then there's the starting rotation. No team in the NL can boast the type of track record the Cubs have 1-through-5. However, track record is not always an indicator of future performance and the Cubs rotation is aging - Jon Lester and Cole Hamels are 35 and only Kyle Hendricks (29) is under 30. 

Also, depth can be erased in a hurry with a few poorly-timed injuries, as the 2018 Cubs proved. And the current bullpen has obviously seen better days.

The Cubs have a chip on their shoulder for 2019 - they're on a mission and feel like they have something to prove. 

Between that sense of urgency, their talent, experience and depth, give me the Cubs to win the NL Central this year, though the Cardinals and Brewers are close behind and the Pirates and Reds might both finish with winning records.

- By Tony Andracki

In a word? Nope! 

I don't know how anyone can definitively say, today on March 25, that the Cubs are the class of the NL Central. A recap of their last 8 months will show that:

1. They did not, actually, win the NL Central last year
2. Their only offseason addition was Daniel Descalso

There's plenty of reasons to believe in the Cubs. They won 95 games without Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, or Brandon Morrow. They have rotational depth that most teams can't match. Their everyday lineup will almost always feature two bonafide MVP candidates. Still, this is a team that couldn't hold off the Brewers after going into September with a 5-game lead. This is also a team that could not win either game of a do-or-die, 2-game home series. 

As it stands now, another NL Central team matches up well against the Cubs in each facet of the game. The Cardinals and Pirates have equally talented rotations, the Reds offense will hang, and the Brewers bullpen still looks pretty damn good. 

By no means is it a stretch to expect the Cubs to be better than what the Projection-System-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named suggested.  A 3rd place, 80-82 season would be nothing short of a disaster. People would lose their jobs. Still, there was a clearly a complacency issue last season, and it sounds like the Cubs and their fans were shocked by last year's outcome in part because they assumed that the Cubs were the class of the NL Central and were going to fall backwards into the NLCS. Defaulting to that again seems ... curious? A 95-win team doesn't overhaul day-to-day operations if they think the status quo was working. 

Going into 2019, the Cubs aren't the class of the NL Central. The good news is that it doesn't really feel like there *is* a team that could be considered that, anyways. 

- By Cam Ellis 

 

19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
18. Who's more likely to bounce back - Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler?
17. How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
16. Can Cubs keep off-field issues from being a distraction?
15. How can Cubs avoid a late-season fade again?
14. Is this the year young pitchers *finally* come up through the system to help in Chicago?
13. How much will Cubs be able to count on Brandon Morrow?
12. How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
11. Will Willson Contreras fulfill his potential as the best catcher on the planet?
10. Will the offseason focus on leadership and accountability translate into the season?
9. Will payroll issues bleed into the season?
8. Will Javy Baez put up another MVP-caliber season?
7. Will Jon Lester and Cole Hamels win the battle against Father Time for another season?
6. What should we expect from Kris Bryant Revenge SZN?
5. Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen?
4. What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?
3. Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?
2. Is the offense going to be significantly better in 2019?
1. How do the Cubs stay on-mission all year?

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