Familiarity breeds Game 163: How can Cubs get an upper hand on Brewers in 20th meeting of 2018?


There will be no need to jog the memory. The Cubs and Brewers know each other better than anyone.

With the National League Central crown on the line, the two division rivals will meet in Game 163 on Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field, the 20th matchup between these teams this season.

Six months of baseball, 19 games between division opponents just a short drive apart, and there’s still one more game needed to figure out who comes out on top.

“To win 95 and do it the way we did is still not enough, as of today,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Sunday’s all-important win over the Cardinals. “But give the Brewers credit, we’ve been talking about them for a couple of years, they’re a good ball club. So it’s interesting, baseball is such a perfect game in some ways that it takes 162 to not decide anything. It’s just like it’s the first day of the season.

“It’s pretty crazy stuff, it really is.”

It will surely be an epic atmosphere on the North Side, something you would think would work in the Cubs’ favor. But how difficult will it be to gain an upper hand considering how well these two squads know one another?

“I think it’s to our advantage — and to their advantage — to play a team that, whatever they’re going to do tomorrow, we pretty much know all their pitchers, all their position players and vice versa,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We feel really confident. We know their team really well. It’s going to be a battle. It’s been a battle all year with us. I think having the home-field advantage will be big for us, but we’ve got to show up and be ready to play and we will be.”

The biggest edge might belong to the Cubs, as they’re throwing the right pitcher in this oh so meaningful game. Jose Quintana has been sensational against the Brewers since coming over in last summer’s trade with the White Sox. He’s faced them six times already this season, with a 2.17 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. The Brewers are hitting just .177 off him.

This is the kind of game the Cubs envisioned Quintana pitching in when they spent a good deal of prospect capital to acquire him last year. While his season in general has been a bit of an up-and-down experience — he’s gotten only 15 outs in six of his last nine starts — they couldn’t ask for a better option with this specific opponent coming to town.

Unsurprisingly, they did it on purpose.

“We had looked at that early on,” Maddon said. “That was part of the planning in the past that if it ever came down to this that Q has had pretty good success against them. We’ll see how it plays out. It’s a big game.”

“Pretty much whenever Q toes the mound for us, we’re really confident no matter what,” outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “It doesn’t matter what team he’s facing. We always know we’re going to get out of him. So it’s going to be good.”

Of course, the Brewers are countering with their own quality arm. Jhoulys Chacin hasn’t been announced as Milwaukee’s starting pitcher, but he figures to be the eventual choice, with Maddon even referencing him in his postgame comments Sunday. He’s made four starts against the Cubs this season and pitched very well, to the tune of a 1.59 ERA. Cubs hitters haven’t done much better against Chacin than Brewers hitters have done against Quintana, with only a .185 batting average.

That’s not bothering the Cubs, though.

“There’s the thing of familiarity there, and it’s good to know what you’re going to be facing up against,” Schwarber said. “The starter, the bullpen, whatever it is, we’ve seen these guys multiple times. It’s just being able to execute. I feel that’s the common theme of playoff games is execution, and that kind of makes the little things matter. I’m sure that’s what it’s going to be tomorrow. The little things matter, and it’ll be a fun game.”

But, hey, the Brewers aren’t bothered, either

Neither side will be holding back at all, but this one-game playoff is interesting in that it’s not a “win or go home” game. The loser won’t be eliminated, just forced into Tuesday’s wild card game at their home park. But the stakes remain high, with the winner earning two straight off days — not to mention the fact that they won be in an elimination game until Game 3 of the NLDS at the earliest.

“The big thing is to get up early and hold onto a lead, that’s the big thing, and stay out of the beefier part of their bullpen, also, because they’re very good,” Maddon said. “But we’re both going to be managing — like today, I’m looking at our game, their game, potentially tomorrow’s game and the day after that’s game, also. You’re thinking about all that in one breath. It’s really an awkward moment. I’ve been through it before, but it is a difficult task.”

“When you make the playoffs, you’re happy to be in the playoffs but you also want to avoid the wild card game as much as possible. It’s one of the games where you either win or you go home,” Schwarber said. “We’re going to be in the playoff no matter what, so it’s going to be a win. But it’s going to be us going out there and being able to play our game and try to walk away with the division.”

That’s what’s on the line for these two opponents who know each other so well. Nineteen times wasn’t enough, 162 games weren’t enough. After Monday’s meeting, someone will be the NL Central champ.

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