CC Sabathia was dominant down the stretch last season to help secure a division title. So far, a move to the National League hasn’t made him any less effective in the clutch.
Sabathia, having pitched three straight complete games, looks to earn his fifth win in as many starts with the Milwaukee Brewers (60-45) when they face the Chicago Cubs (61-44) in the opener of a four-game set for supremacy in the NL Central.
Feeling it needed another ace to complement Ben Sheets, Milwaukee acquired Sabathia (4-0, 1.36 ERA) in a trade with Cleveland on July 7, when it was four games behind the Cubs. That move has certainly paid off for the Brewers, who were in a tie with Chicago for first place before falling one game behind after play Sunday.
With Sabathia’s red-hot pitching a large factor, Milwaukee has won nine of its last 11. He has won all four starts since the Brewers acquired the 2007 AL Cy Young winner, and has won seven straight decisions overall over his last nine starts.
Sabathia is coming off his third straight complete game, tossing a three-hitter in Milwaukee’s 3-0 win over St. Louis on Wednesday night. He was following up on a four-hitter against Cincinnati on July 13 and an eight-hitter versus San Francisco on July 18.
The left-hander is the first Brewer to throw three straight complete games since Cal Eldred had four in a row in 1994.
Thriving in the heat of a pennant race is nothing new for Sabathia. Over the final two months last season, he went 6-3 with a 2.28 ERA in 13 starts to help Cleveland pull away in the AL Central.
But Sabathia struggled in his only career start against the Cubs, allowing nine runs and eight hits in 2 1-3 innings for the Indians in a 9-2 loss on June 21, 2006.
Sabathia will be trying to help Milwaukee bounce back after an 11-6 loss to Houston on Sunday. The Brewers dropped two of three in that series after winning their previous eight.
Milwaukee, though, got another big game at the plate from Ryan Braun, who went 3-for-5 with a two-run homer. He has a team-best 28 home runs this season, eight in the Brewers’ last 20 games.
Braun has hit .407 (11-for-27) with one home run, four doubles and nine RBIs in six games against the Cubs this season. Milwaukee won four of those contests, all played in Chicago.
The Brewers now face Ted Lilly (10-6, 4.49), who is 1-2 with a 5.64 ERA in four starts and one relief appearance versus Milwaukee.
This will be the veteran left-hander’s third straight start on the road, where he is 5-3 with a 3.84 ERA in 12 outings this season. Lilly gave up three runs and six hits while striking out six over six innings in a 10-6 win over Arizona on Wednesday.
The Cubs overcame a poor start from Jason Marquis and used a four-run seventh to rally for a 9-6 victory over Florida on Sunday. Chicago, which had lost seven of its previous 10, earned a split in the four-game series.
The Cubs, losers of 13 of 19 on the road, need to improve their play to hold off the confident Brewers.
“We still have a couple months to go, and I feel like we have to take care of our own business,” Chicago second baseman Mike Fontenot told the team’s official Web site. “We have four games coming up (with Milwaukee). We can try do to do some good things there.”