The Chicago Cubs were greeted by a large contingent of fans Monday in their first trip to the ballpark formerly known as Miller Park.
There’s nothing unusual about that, of course.
Wrigley North has been a destination for Cubs fans since the Milwaukee Brewers first opened the park in 2001, giving the team a home away from home against their division rival.
“They’re everywhere and they love them some Cubbies,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said.
It was a Chicago-centric crowd again Monday that watched the Cubs jump out to a six-run lead, only to watch it melt away in a devastating 8-6 loss before a crowd of 43,209.
“We just didn’t execute well the last half of the game,” Swanson said. “We obviously put ourselves in good position to win and weren’t able enough to add on or be able to put together outs.
“Definitely not enjoyable, but it should be a good learning experience for us.”
The Cubs (38-45) have lost three straight and seven of their last eight since winning the opening game of the London Series, falling seven games out of first place behind the Brewers, who lead the National League Central with the Cincinnati Reds.
“We’re better than this and we need to play better,” reliever Michael Fulmer said.
The Cubs also might have lost third baseman Nick Madrigal for a while after he took himself out in the fourth inning with right hamstring tightness after tweaking it pursuing a foul pop up.
Manager David Ross said Patrick Wisdom could be ready to return from his rehab stint at Triple-A Iowa. And with the All- Star break approaching, there is no need to rush Madrigal back.
Cubs-Brewers games up north have always seemed to be a turning point for one — or both — teams.
Every time a new Cubs player experiences their first trip to Milwaukee, they’re somewhat surprised by how many fans made the trip up I-94. After his first outing with the Cubs in 2018, pitcher Cole Hamels argued it couldn’t really be called a rivalry.
“I know the rivalries I’ve had in the past, you can definitely feel it,” Hamels said. “When you have majority Cubs fans in the stands, I don’t know if that’s a rivalry yet. They’re not going to like me for the comment, but you can look at the ticket sales.”
Ross, who has been saying for the last three years that no series is more important than any other, conceded beforehand this one is big.
“I do think we’ve kind of earmarked this series, as (one where) we’ve got a chance to catch a team in front of us,” he said. “You always kind of do that in your division.
“Again, we don’t try to (make) one more important than the other, but it’d be nice. We didn’t get off to that good start after London and hadn’t played winning baseball or been able to pull out some wins at home. We need to hopefully make up some ground on the road going into the All-Star break.”
It looked like they were ready to do just that. The Cubs burst out to a 6-0 lead by the third inning, but starter Drew Smyly gave three runs back in the bottom of the third and was removed with two outs in the fourth.
Smyly said he “was a little erratic,” but besides giving up a couple extra base hits in the third felt he “pitched pretty good.”
Smyly hasn’t lasted more than four innings in his last two starts and has a 6.49 ERA in his last seven starts since May 28.
Julian Merryweather loaded the bases in the sixth before Ross called on lefty Anthony Kay to face pinch-hitter Jesse Winker. Brewers manager Craig Counsell yanked Winker for right-handed hitting Jahmai Jones, whose three-run double to center tied the game.
Ross said he wanted to save Mark Leiter Jr. for the last two innings.
“Take my chances with Jones,” he said. “He burned us.”
Leiter eventually gave up the go-ahead RBI single to Willy Adames in the eighth, and the Brewers added an insurance run in the inning.
“Nine free passes, a six-run lead early on,” Ross said. “It just can’t happen. We’ve got to throw strikes, challenge guys, make them earn it.”
Madrigal said he took himself out of the game because he’d felt calf tightness lately and wanted to “be smart about it.” Designated hitter Christopher Morel moved to third and Fulmer was inserted into Madrigal’s spot, the first time a Cubs pitcher batted since David Robertson on June 22, 2022.
Like Robertson, Fulmer struck out.
The new, balanced schedule that MLB implemented this year means Cubs fans have only two road trips to Milwaukee: the four-game series that runs through Thursday and the season-ending, three-game set from Sept. 29-Oct. 1.
But that series may not matter if the Cubs don’t wake up the next three days and get back to within shouting distance in the division race. They could go from buyers to sellers at the Aug. 1 trade deadline at this rate.
“I hate to say it but, I think they’re must-win games,” Fulmer said. “When we have a lead like that, we’re going to have to hold it.”
Asked if these are indeed “must-win” games, Swanson replied: “The intensity doesn’t change based on who you’re playing, what time of the year you’re playing. Every moment should be the same. That’s how I feel, at least.”
Madrigal did just that, and said “everyone is kind of feeling it a little bit.” But Swanson said any alleged fatigue factor from those things shouldn’t matter.
“The easy answer we could say is ‘yeah,’” he said. “But at the end of the day, this is the hand we’re dealt. We’ve got to obviously man up, basically.
“Ain’t nothing changing. Ain’t nobody feeling bad for us. We should still be expecting the same things out of ourselves.
“We’re pros. This is what we do. We’ve just got to find a way.”
Source: Berkshire mont