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Imanaga hit hard, Brewers finally solve Cubs’ starting rotation to grab lead in key series going into Thursday’s finale

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Maybe it was just the law of averages catching up to them.

Whatever the case, two things that hadn’t happened to the Chicago Cubs all season both happened Wednesday night in Milwaukee: The Brewers scored off the Cubs’ starting rotation, and rookie phenom Shota Imanaga was hit hard.

Christian Yelich, Blake Perkins and Willy Adames all homered for the Brewers, who handed Imanaga the first loss of his young MLB career in a 10-6 victory.

The win gave first-place Milwaukee a 2-1 lead in the key four-game series against second-place Chicago, with one more game left Thursday afternoon. The Brewers will take a 4.5-game lead over the Cubs in the NL Central into Thursday’s series finale.

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Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals, winners of eight of their last 10, are now tied for second place with the Cubs, also 4.5 games behind the Brewers.

The Cubs dropped back to .500 on the season at 28-28. They’ve lost seven of their last 10 and are 1-4 on their road trip to St. Louis and Milwaukee, which they’ll wrap up Thursday before returning home for a weekend series against another NL Central foe, the Cincinnati Reds.

Imanaga hit hard

Through the first nine starts of his MLB career after coming to the Cubs from Japan, the left-handed Imanaga, 30, was nearly untouchable. He was 5-0 with a major league-leading 0.84 ERA.

But Brewers rookie Joey Ortiz, batting leadoff for the first time, hit a double off Imanaga to start the bottom of the first inning. Two batters later, Yelich crushed a 441-foot home run to right-center to give the Brewers an early 2-0 lead.

Yelich’s first home run since April 10 at Cincinnati also halted Milwaukee’s 32 2/3-inning scoreless streak against Cubs starters this season. That had lasted through the teams’ first five meetings of 2024, including rookie Ben Brown’s seven no-hit innings in Chicago’s 6-3 win on Tuesday night that snapped a five-game losing streak.

Yelich’s two-run homer Wednesday also accounted for the only first-inning runs allowed by Imanaga this season.

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“He’s got good stuff. He’s a really good pitcher,” Yelich said. “We had some really good at-bats and got some pitches to hit and didn’t really miss them.

“We took advantage of our opportunities tonight. We got some big hits with guys on, and that was the difference.”

Imanaga departed after giving seven runs (all earned) on eight hits — both season highs — in 4 1/3 innings, his second-shortest outing of the season. He had one walk and one strikeout in the 82-pitch outing after entering the game having struck out at least seven batters in five consecutive starts.

Imanaga’s ERA jumped more than a full run, to 1.86, which shows how dominant he was in his first nine starts before Thursday.

“He wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him in the past. They hit his mistakes. It wasn’t a great night for Shota,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said.

Imanaga said he mostly struggled with his changeup.

“I didn’t throw it where I wanted to,” Imanaga said through an interpreter. “They were making adjustments, and I didn’t have the consistency today.”

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Cubs try to battle back

Ian Happ’s solo homer off Bryse Wilson in the second pulled the Cubs within a run at 2-1, but Perkins, the Brewers’ center fielder, made several sparkling defensive plays throughout the game to prevent the Cubs from pulling ahead or drawing closer.

Perkins made a leaping grab at the center-field fence to rob Christopher Morel of a two-run homer in the third. Perkins said his ability to make that play comes from practicing catches at the wall during batting practice.

“It’s knowing the ball flight off the bat, I feel like I’ve made that play so many times. It’s just kind of natural now,” he said.

The Brewers scored five runs in the third off Imanaga to add to their lead. Adames had a run-scoring single, Gary Sánchez drove in a pair with a double and Perkins capped the inning with a two-run homer to push Milwaukee’s lead to 7-1.

The Cubs pushed across a run in the fourth on Michael Busch’s groundout and added two more in the fifth to make it 7-4. The Cubs then had two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth when Dansby Swanson hit a deep drive to center, but Perkins tracked it down right in front of the wall for the third out.

Perkins then made a spectacular diving catch on the warning track to take away an extra-base hit from Happ in the seventh. Milwaukee added three more runs in their half of the inning, two on Adames’ ninth homer of the season.

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The Cubs added a pair of runs in the ninth.

Perkins’ stellar defense earned praise from Yelich.

“He pretty much won the game for us on defense, not even counting what he did for us at the plate,” Yelich said. “It’s probably the best game I’ve ever seen him play, and it was a great time for it.”

Wilson, who stood near the mound with his hands raised above his head for several seconds after Perkins’ home run-stealing grab at the fence to rob Morel, agreed.

“For him to have the game he did today is awesome, and it makes everybody happy because of the person that he is off the field,” Wilson said. “He’s an awesome dude, and for him to start becoming the player he can truly be is really fun to watch.”

Jared Koenig (5-1) pitched two innings of scoreless relief to get the win.

Up next

RHP Jameson Taillon (3-2, 2.58 ERA) pitches for the Cubs and RHP Colin Rea (4-2, 3.98) starts for the Brewers in the series finale on Thursday.

First pitch from American Family Field is scheduled for 12:10 p.m.

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