Want to know how the Brewers caught the Cubs for the NL Central crown?
Take a look at the September numbers.
The Cubs slashed .239/.303/.367, scored 116 runs and hit 21 homers in the month of September. The Brewers slashed .250/.343/.445, scored 144 runs and hit 39 homers in the month of September.
No, it doesn't tell the whole story. But the Brewers have swung hot bats for the last month and the Cubs haven’t. At the very least, you could count on more consistent offensive production from the Milwaukee lineup than the Chicago one.
And that’s what played out in Monday’s Game 163. The Brewers might not have lit up the scoreboard, but they banged out 12 hits and came through in the moments they needed to. The Cubs had three hits on the day and gave themselves few opportunities.
“They got 12 hits, we got three,” manager Joe Maddon said. “(Anthony Rizzo) obviously righted the ship for us a little bit (with his game-tying solo home run). But we weren’t really striking the ball with any kind of consistency.”
The Cubs don’t need to worry about the Brewers right now. The focus is squarely on Tuesday night’s win-or-go-home NL wild card game against the Rockies at Wrigley Field. The question is: Can they figure out what’s plaguing their offense and score enough to see the Brewers later this week?
“Well it’s been going on for a bit,” Maddon said of the Cubs’ offensive inconsistencies. “It’s just the consistent hard contact has not been there, more than anything. And I can’t give you a solid reason.
“We’ve got to find it. Quickly. The capabilities are within the group, there’s no doubt. We have one more shot tomorrow to right the ship and then move on from there. I don’t have any really solid answers.”
That’s probably some pretty scary stuff for Cubs fans to read, but they know it to be true after watching this team for the last month.
The good news is the Cubs do get to turn to Jon Lester, and Cole Hamels later on, who have a ridiculous amount of high-leverage playoff experience between the two of them. The pitching has been good, as evidenced in Monday’s game, with Jose Quintana and a parade of relievers limiting the Brewers to just three runs. Quintana surrendered just one before getting lifted after the sixth inning’s first batter.
The bad news is the mystery. Who knows what this offense will be able to do? The Rockies will throw Kyle Freeland, who owns a 2.85 ERA and has quite simply been one of the NL’s finest starting pitchers this season. The Cubs scored 33 runs in this year’s six games against the Rockies — but how much difference does that make when Colorado scored the exact same amount against them?
There’s no magic bullet or one thing this lineup needs to do to turn things around.
“Hopefully we score more runs,” second baseman Daniel Murphy said. “That’d be a nice start, I’d like to get more hits.”
Yeah, that’s what Cubs fans are hoping for, too.
“Guys have really good routines, preparation, going over the starting pitchers, going over the bullpen. We’re engaged on the bench,” Rizzo said. “Sometimes you’re hot, sometimes you’re not.”
Again, perhaps not the explanation Cubs fans want to hear with the season on the line Tuesday night.
But this team has earned the benefit of the doubt, too. The Cubs have played deep into October in each of the last three postseasons, and that doesn’t happen without figuring out how to come up with the right hits at the right times. Heck, even in what is being looked at as a more disappointing season to this point than its predecessors, only one NL team has a better run differential at the close of the regular season: the NL West champion Dodgers.
“We won 95 games. It just wasn’t good enough,” Rizzo said. “We won 98 games one year, and we were happy we were in the the wild card (game). It’s just the way it’s shifted around here, the expectations have gone up, and we hold ourselves to an extremely high level. I think tomorrow it’s all about focusing on having good at-bats. And usually if you have good at-bats, good things come out of it.”
Even external factors can make all the difference. Saturday’s loss to the Cardinals featured plenty of the hard contact Maddon has been searching for, just right at St. Louis defenders. In Monday’s game, a different direction of wind might have changed the game entirely, with Rizzo and Jason Heyward both seemingly launching balls into the seats, only for them to settle in outfielders’ gloves.
“We need the wind to not knock mine down and Tony’s there at the end,” Heyward said. “Because if we’re playing in Milwaukee, those two might’ve been gone.”
So while Murphy’s comments about getting more hits and scoring more runs might’ve seemed a bit simplistic, they aren’t wrong.
The Cubs have one more shot Tuesday night to save their season, and like many of the games they’ve played this year, it won’t be easy. But look at what this team has done before, where it’s been, and perhaps you’ll come to the conclusion that counting these players out makes as little sense as these offensive struggles.