Bauman: A fine Cubs brew in Milwaukee
Dempster tames Crew again; hitters feast on 'Soup'
MILWAUKEE -- If the Chicago Cubs could keep getting the starting pitching matchup that they had Friday night, the lamentations, the trials and the tribulations, all could be ended.
It did not matter that the Cubs were 7-10 and cold. It did not matter that the Milwaukee Brewers were 8-7 and had just scored 20 runs on Thursday. The pitching matchup said that this would be the Cubs' game to win. And win they did, 8-1.
It was true that the Cubs had lost five of their last six games, and in three losses to the New York Mets had scored a total of just three runs. "We've got to score more runs," manager Lou Piniella said. "Three runs, three games, that's not going to cut it. All I know is, we need to score more runs to win."
It was also true that their weekend opponents, the Brewers, were on a four-game winning streak and had just destroyed the Pittsburgh Pirates in a three-game series by a combined score of 36-1, including 20-0 on Thursday.
None of this mattered. The pitching matchup for Friday night's game trumped recent history and virtually dictated a Cubs win. What would the baseball world be like if the remainder of the schedule could move so readily into the victory column for the North Siders?
Jeff Suppan started for the Brewers. He is working in the last year of a four-year, $42 million deal that has been a fiscal ball and chain to be dragged around by the small-market Milwaukee franchise. "Soup" compiled a 5.29 earned run average last year, as his work continued to deteriorate. He began this season on the disabled list with neck pain, but eventually the Brewers succumbed to the temptation to once again attempt to get something for their money.
So they started him April 15 in Chicago and Suppan gave up four runs in five innings. And then, given a second start against the Cubs, this one on Friday night, Suppan pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up six runs, five of them earned, on 10 hits.
On the other hand, the Cubs started Ryan Dempster. He was 12-3 with a 2.88 ERA against Milwaukee. There is no overstating how difficult the Milwaukee lineup can be. It still has the extraordinary duo of left fielder Ryan Braun and first baseman Prince Fielder in the third and fourth spots. And it has added extreme speed in shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Carlos Gomez.
But as dangerous as the Milwaukee lineup is, it is routinely tamed by Dempster. It is no accident that he has started the opening game of four of the last five series these two teams have played. And he has won the decision in all four of those starts.
Here, Dempster pitched 7 2/3 highly effective innings, giving up one earned run. This was precisely the kind of performance the Cubs needed, but also, from Dempster against the Brewers, precisely the kind of performance the Cubs had reason to expect.
"I had a lot of help," Dempster said with all due modesty and more, crediting his defense. There was also the normal leveling out of events to take into consideration. "I figured they scored 20 yesterday, they had to hit a few at somebody today," Dempster said.
Dempster got one break in the first inning when, with one on and two outs, first baseman Prince Fielder hit a drive off the top of the wall in center that was initially ruled a double. Umpires went to a replay review and determined that, yes, this was a double, not a two-run homer. Dempster got the third out of the inning on a groundout and emerged unscathed, subsequently giving up no runs until the eighth.
Dempster is now 2-0 on the season with a 2.60 ERA in four starts. This outing was about ability and performance, not about luck and bounces.
"Dempster really, really pitched well," Piniella said. "Milwaukee swings the bats. They got a very nice offensive team -- come on, they really do.
"Dempster's had success against them. When Dempster is throwing strikes and getting ahead of the hitters, he's got the pitches to get good hitting teams out, believe me."
This was, as Piniella said, a strong all-around performance. The only precipitation anywhere near this particular Cubs parade was the fact that the offense had awakened against a pitcher who is, by all recent evidence, extremely hittable. How much of this was the Cubs coming out of an offensive slumber and how much was just facing Jeff Suppan?
That question might be answered by the Cubs' hitting throughout the rest of the weekend. What the Cubs undoubtedly received on Friday night was still substantial; a very fine pitching performance and a solid, encouraging, much needed victory.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.