Cubs see division lead dwindling: ‘Tonight we beat ourselves'


In a division race between two teams so closely matched as the Cubs and Brewers, winning or losing sometimes comes down to the minutiae.

"Tonight we beat ourselves," Cubs starter Jon Lester said after Monday's 3-2 loss. "But that happens. Tonight was a good, clean baseball game. You gotta tip your hat sometimes. You gotta make the other team beat you with swinging the bats. Sometimes the other team throws the ball just a little bit better than you do."

Lester survived a wobbly first inning and was on his way to cruising through the 6th with a 2-2 tie when he struck out Jonathan Schoop, but he stood up awkwardly after, trying to shake off low back tightness.

After the game, both Lester and Cubs manager Joe Maddon indicated that there was no pain in his back, only discomfort, and for now it appears as though Lester will be fine to make his next start.

But it was the back issue that set up the decisive sequence as Lester was forced out of the game after allowing back-to-back hits. 

After surrendering a broken-bat single to Mike Moustakas single, Lester threw an 0-1 fastball to catcher Erik Kratz, who dumped it into right field and moved Moustakas to third.

"I really can’t throw a fastball down and away better to Kratz, and he does a good piece of hitting and hits it down the line," Lester said.

Maddon went to Carl Edwards, Jr. for what he hoped would be the final out of the inning. Instead, Edwards' first offering scooted to the backstop, allowing Moustakas to score the game-winning run. 

"That was important there, again, because I just wanted to reduce his outing tonight to one out, and once Jon was in the situation that he was in, I thought, get Carl out there, get one out, let him walk off the field, feel good about himself," Maddon said. "We did get the one out, we just had a wild pitch, and all of a sudden a run scores."

Edwards got his one out by striking out Curtis Granderson to end the inning, but it was too late. Despite the undesirable outcome, Maddon recognizes the need to keep turning to Edwards in those spots.

"We need to get Carl straightened out. The symmetry of the bullpen is different without him out there," Maddon said. "His skill set is really important to us. We gotta get him right."

The wild pitch led to the decisive score, but the offense only managed two runs, striking out eight times in the final three innings.

"We gotta hit the ball," Maddon said. "We pitched well enough to win tonight, no question. You can dissect it any way you want, but just to score two runs again, you have to be more offensive."

The lead in the division is down to just one game and with two remaining in this series, the time is now for the Cubs to really separate themselves. They have played in plenty of big games before, so it does not appear that this pressure creates any sense of worry in the clubhouse. 

Daniel Murphy saw no cause for concern after Monday's loss.

"I think it’s all through the lens you look at," Murphy said. "So we’ve got, what, [19] games left? And we have a game lead. I think a lot of people would have taken that."

Murphy is playing alongside the group that he faced in both 2015 and 2017 in the crucible of the playoffs, and even in a loss like this one, he said he is impressed with how his teammates handle the big moments.

"The level of consistent approach. There’s never any panic. There wasn’t any panic in Milwaukee when we lost the first two and we won that last game on the way out of there," Murphy said. "And I don’t feel that now."

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