The Brewers look to earn a series win against the division leaders as the teams wrap up their three-game set Thursday at Wrigley Field.
Milwaukee (66-66) led the NL Central by as many as 8 1/2 games in June, but fell out of first place on Aug. 17 after losing to Cincinnati. That loss capped a five-game losing streak, and the Brewers had dropped five in a row again before beating the Cubs 6-1 on Wednesday to move back to within 1 1/2 games of first.
The victory was just Milwaukee’s sixth in 21 games, but it was especially encouraging as ace Ben Sheets returned from the disabled list to earn the win. Sheets, who had not pitched since July 14 because of a sprained finger on his pitching hand and a blister, threw six strong innings and beat Chicago’s struggling ace, Carlos Zambrano.
“We got our ace back and we get our swagger back,” said rookie third baseman Ryan Braun, who doubled in a pair of runs. “That was huge.”
The win was just the Brewers’ third in their last nine games against the Cubs (67-64) and second in six games at Wrigley. Chicago, meanwhile, lost for the fourth time in six games overall and managed only one run for the third time over that span.
“We’re not worried about Milwaukee or anybody,” outfielder Cliff Floyd told the Cubs’ official team Web site. “We’re worried about ourselves. If we take care of ourselves, we’ll take care of the ‘W’ column and we’ll be OK. If not, we’ll be in the same situation Milwaukee is in.”
Jacque Jones, who hit a game-tying double and scored the go-ahead run on Tuesday, went 2-for-3 Wednesday and is 9-for-21 (.429) over his last five games.
Chicago is hoping starter Ted Lilly (13-7, 3.85 ERA) can help it bounce back in the finale. Lilly is 0-2 in his last three starts but turned in a strong outing on Saturday, giving up two runs and striking out eight in six innings in of a 3-1 loss in Arizona.
“I threw the ball better than I have the last couple of starts,” Lilly, who had yielded 11 runs in 11 innings in his previous two starts, told the Cubs’ team site. “I was locating the ball (inside) better and my curveball was more consistent than it has been.
“It’s something to take into the next start, but it’s still a loss today.”
Lilly is 1-1 with a 4.97 ERA in three career appearances—two starts— against the Brewers. Both of the starts have come this season, and he has allowed eight runs in 12 innings.
Milwaukee will hand the ball to Manny Parra (0-1, 3.09), who is making just his second career start and ninth appearance. He gave up three runs—one earned — in six innings in his first start on July 28, but didn’t get a decision Milwaukee’s 7-6 loss to St. Louis.
Since the start, Parra, who threw a perfect game for Triple-A Nashville on June 25, has made five relief appearances, yielding six runs in 15 innings. He is getting the start on Thursday to give fellow rookie Yovani Gallardo a breather, but manager Ned Yost said Parra’s inexperience might also be an advantage.
“It’s a different look, somebody that they don’t know,” Yost told the Brewers’ team site. “We’re playing all our division now, and they’ve seen our guys. They don’t know (Parra), a guy throwing 93 (mph) with a nice breaking ball.”
Parra has never faced the Cubs, who are just 12-20 against left-handed starters.