A late power surge by the Chicago Cubs proved to be too much for the Milwaukee Brewers and their struggling offense to overcome on Sunday afternoon.
Rookie Victor Caratini’s first major-league home run in the seventh broke a tie and Kris Bryant’s solo shot in the eighth put the game out of reach as the Brewers fell, 4-2, in front of a third consecutive sellout crowd at Miller Park.
Starter Zach Davies continued his recent run of solid outings, but it was a 1-2 fastball that Caratini clobbered off him that decided it, allowing the Cubs to leave town having picked up another game on the Brewers in the National League Central standings.
Chicago leads by 2 1/2 games, with the trading deadline looming at 3 p.m. Monday.
“It was a good baseball series,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It was entertaining, for sure. It was well-played, hard-fought games. Excellent defense. We pitched very well. We didn’t create enough scoring opportunities.
“That’s what the games came down to. We have to do a better job of creating those opportunities.”
Domingo Santana’s two-run homer in the sixth was the lone bright spot for a Brewers offense that scattered only four more singles the rest of the day.
The punchless offense was as much a story line in the series for the Brewers as was their strong pitching. In losing two of three, Milwaukee managed to score just five runs on 16 hits – 12 of which were singles – while stranding 23 runners.
NOTES: Brewers send out Junior Guerra, bring in Wei-Chung Wang
BOX SCORE: Cubs 4, Brewers 2
MLB: Live scoreboard, box scores, standings, schedules
Conversely, Milwaukee’s pitching staff limited Chicago to seven runs.
“Offensively, we just haven’t been very good,” said third baseman Travis Shaw. “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.”
The Brewers also entered the game having gone 0 for 16 with runners in scoring position in the series and 0 for their last 29 overall. Their last hit with runners in scoring position came five days earlier in Washington, on a Santana RBI single.
That ignominious streak stretched on in this one.
With runners on the corners and one out in the second, Jett Bandy grounded out to third. Then, after Lewis Brinson was walked intentionally by John Lackey to load the bases, Davies flied out to right.
That dropped the Brewers to 0 for their last 31 with runners in scoring position, a franchise record. They had put together 0-for-30 streaks previously in 1987 and 2002.
Davies mostly breezed through his first five innings before falling victim to some major bad luck in the sixth.
With two outs, Jon Jay laced a single just over the head of a leaping Orlando Arcia at shortstop. Bryant followed with a double down the left-field line that put runners in scoring position for Willson Contreras, whose perfectly placed swinging bunt scored Jay to make it 1-0.
That brought up Addison Russell, who eventually worked a full count before reaching out and flicking a single into short center to plate Bryant and up Chicago’s lead to 2-0.
Milwaukee’s offense finally showed some signs of life in the bottom of the inning, beginning with a leadoff single by Ryan Braun.
After Travus Shaw struck out, Santana lifted a fly ball into the corner in right field that Jason Heyward appeared to have a bead on. But the ball kept carrying and eventually hit off the top of the wall and bounced over with Heyward coming up just short on his leaping attempt.
The 2-2 tie proved short-lived, however.
With one out in the seventh and Caratini at the plate, Davies left a 1-2 fastball out over the plate. The .167-hitting Caratini – starting in place of Anthony Rizzo, who was out with a sore back – crushed it out to straightaway center, again leaving the Brewers to face a deficit.
Davies (12-5) closed out the inning and his day after seven innings and 97 pitches, having allowed seven hits and three runs with six strikeouts. It was his third consecutive outing of at least seven innings and fourth of the season.
“I was happy going through the game and finishing the way I did,” Davies said. “But it just wasn’t enough today.”
Bryant gave the Cubs additional breathing room with a solo homer off the foul pole in left in the eighth. It was surrendered by the struggling Jacob Barnes, who was unable to catch a break with Bryant going up to get a 97-mph fastball that was out of the zone.
Milwaukee has an off-day Monday, then hosts another NL Central rival in the St. Louis Cardinals beginning Tuesday.
“There’s still a lot of games to be played,” said Davies. “I don’t think anybody in this clubhouse is too worried about just this one series.
“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.”
BEHIND THE BOX SCORE
• Counsell acknowledged the weekend’s atmosphere in the three-game series.
Saturday night’s crowd of 44,709 fans — many in Cubs gear — was the largest of any game in 2017 at Miller Park.
“I think we’ve experienced it,” Counsell said. “The road trip before the all-star break where we went to Chicago and New York — that was it. It doesn’t get any more than that, and I think we handled that well.”
Through three straight sellout games, Counsell said he and his players have enjoyed the lively environment.
“It’s always fun,” Counsell said. “The guys will take it. It’s energy for them that gets any fatigue out of their system really fast and puts their concentration level really high, which I think we’ve seen on the field with the play from both teams the last couple of nights.”
“We welcome it as much as anything.”
The teams square off twice more this season, Sept. 8-10 at Wrigley Field and Sept. 21-24 at Miller Park.
• Ten of Santana’s 18 homers this season have either tied the game or given the Brewers the lead.
• Santana batted .333 with seven doubles, five homers, 16 RBI, 14 runs scored and 12 walks in 24 games in July.
The upshot from this series is the Brewers more than hung with the Cubs in every respect. The downside is the offense is in a serious funk, and the pitching staff is being given zero margin for error as a result. That’s difficult for even the best in baseball to overcome on a nightly basis.
This year: 55-52 (29-26 home; 26-26 away)
Last year: 48-59
Sunday: 44,269 (eighth sellout)
2017 total: 1,667,219 (30,313 avg.)
Last year: 1,622,068 (29,492 avg.)
Tuesday: Brewers vs. Cardinals, 6:40 p.m. Milwaukee RHP Jimmy Nelson (8-5, 3.38) vs. St. Louis RHP Carlos Martinez (7-8, 3.52). TV: FS Wisconsin. Radio: AM-620.