MILWAUKEE — This one was so big for the Cubs that a cake was being planned for the winning pitcher after the Stro Show arrived in spectacular fashion under the roof in Milwaukee.
“Later,” said Cubs starter Marcus Stroman, who settled immediately after the game for a couple of Popeye’s chicken sandwiches with teammates after dominating the Brewers lineup for seven innings to beat Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes 2-0 on Sunday afternoon.
“That’s better than a cake,” he said.
Stroman, the Cubs’ big free agent pitching acquisition over the winter, had his cake and ate the Brewers’ lunch, too, on a day the Cubs might not have needed it more — having been outscored 20-2 the first two games of the series and finishing April with nine losses in 11 games.
“We needed that one,” manager David Ross said. “That was a really big outing for us and for him.”
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the North Side nine on this day, with one of the hottest pitchers staring down a lineup that had produced exactly one run each in four of its five games to start the two-city trip.
“That guy is incredible, man,” Stroman (1-3) said of Burnes. “It’s one of the very few pitchers I watch video on and really dive into his stuff, his sequencing, his tunneling.
“Any time you’re going up against that guy, you know you’re going to have to bring your ‘A’ game.”
Burnes, in fact, had some of his best stuff of the season, retiring the first 13 he faced before Patrick Wisdom belted a 1-0 pitch to left for a homer to break up the perfect game. Then in the sixth, a pair of two-out hits off Burnes, including a run-scoring double to left by Seiya Suzuki, added breathing room.
“Definitely felt good to get that last one and avoid the sweep,” said Stroman, who produced his best start as a Cub on his 31st birthday — taking the cake by retiring the final 14 he faced.
Stroman’s first win as a Cub came in a second consecutive strong outing — with two runs allowed in 13 innings, including a 3-1 loss Tuesday in Atlanta in another matchup against an ace, Max Fried.
“I really thought he found his rhythm his last start,” said Ross, who attributed some of the earlier struggles to the short spring training after MLB’s lockout. “One of those early starts that didn’t go quite like he wanted probably’s in spring training, maybe two of those.”
Said Stroman: “I don’t make excuses, man. I just didn’t pitch good those starts.”
Regardless, the Cubs’ rotation needs a lot more of what Stroman provided Sunday if the Cubs are going to do anything but fade quickly into National League obscurity this season.
Cubs starters were 3-11 with a 5.56 in April — including 1-8 with a 6.26 ERA during the 2-9 skid into May. Only the Max Scherzer-less Nationals (6.91) and tanking Reds (7.35) were worse in that stretch.
“Good starting pitching’s going to need to happen, right?” Ross said before the game when addressing how the Cubs might reverse their April trends. “Everything goes with how those guys set the tone on the mound.
“We’ve got a group that I believe can win a lot of baseball games and a group that plays together. We’re just going to have to continue to pitch and play defense.”
If Stroman’s start was also the start of something bigger for the rotation, maybe it’ll even lead to an upgrade of the getaway postgame spread.
“Don’t be eyeballing my chicken sandwich,” Ross told one hungry young podcast beat reporter who inquired about the contents in the Popeye’s wrapper after the game.
Sounds like somebody needs to get this man a piece of that cake.