To some, the reigning NL Central champion Brewers were an afterthought, following the loss of Prince Fielder and the uncertainty surrounding Ryan Braun following his offseason performance-enhancing drug controversy.
Yet six games into the regular season -- all against division opponents -- the Brewers are showing they're not to be forgotten. After dropping two of three against St. Louis to open the season, the Brewers have taken three straight in Chicago and on Thursday go for a four-game sweep against the Cubs behind right-hander Zack Greinke (1-0, 0.00 ERA).
For Greinke, Thursday presents the first chance to turn around last season's home-road splits. The right-hander was marvelous in his first season at Miller Park -- 11-0, 3.13 ERA -- and continued that trend in his 2012 debut, tossing seven shutout innings against St. Louis. He struggled away from home in 2011, however, going 5-6 with a 4.70 ERA.
On Thursday, he'll look to make a better impression on the road, as well as create a better memory at Wrigley Field. In his lone career start at Wrigley last season, Greinke allowed eight runs (six earned) on eight hits and walked two in 5 1/3 innings.
Right-hander Matt Garza (0-0, 3.00) takes the mound for the Cubs as he not only looks to help his team avoid the sweep but to finally get help from the 'pen and stop a disappointing trend from last season that continued in his 2012 debut. Last season, Garza left with the lead and did not factor in the decision seven times. The same thing happened Saturday against the Nationals, as he left with a 4-2 lead after six innings but came away with a no-decision.
Garza faced the Brewers three times in 2011, going 2-1 with a 4.35 ERA.
Brewers: Axford in rare company
Closer John Axford converted his 45th consecutive save Wednesday, the fifth-longest streak in Major League history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. With two more saves, Axford will tie Brad Lidge (Sept. 25, 2007-April 13, 2009) for fourth on the all-time list. The record belongs to Eric Gagne, who converted 84 straight from Aug. 28, 2002-July 3, 2004.
The Brewers have scored five runs in the first inning four times at Wrigley Field, the latest coming Tuesday night. They are 3-1 in those games, with the only loss coming on June 29, 2007 on a two-run, walk-off homer by current Brewer Aramis Ramirez.
Cubs: Clevenger expected to start
Backup catcher Steve Clevenger, who hit a pinch-hit double Wednesday, is expected to make his second start of the season behind the dish Thursday. Manager Dale Sveum said earlier this week the 26-year-old could start as much as twice a week, depending on matchups.
The Cubs have had a sacrifice fly in four straight games for the first time since a five-game streak from July 5-13, 2007.
With five strikeouts Wednesday, right-hander Ryan Dempster surpassed the 1,000 mark in his Cubs career.
The Cubs' first six games have been decided by three runs or fewer, including four by two or fewer. The franchise record for most games decided by three runs or fewer to begin the season is eight in 1900.
Cubs batters are hitting a combined .216 against Greinke in their careers.
Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan is a career .444 (4-for-9) hitter against Garza.