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Brewers, Cubs set for early-season NL Central barometer

2BREWERS (23-16) AT CUBS (22-13)
2:20 p.m. ET; NBCSCH, FSWI, MLB.TV

May is a little too early to call a game a showdown, but when the second-place Milwaukee Brewers visit the National League Central-leading Chicago Cubs on Friday to start a three-game series, it should be an intriguing matchup.

The Cubs, after beating the Miami Marlins 4-1 on Thursday, lead the Brewers by one game after winning 10 of their past 11 games. Milwaukee, which was idle on Thursday, has won six straight games.

This will be the second series between the teams this season, as the Brewers took two of three from the Cubs in Milwaukee from April 5-7. The Cubs scored 26 runs in that series, and the Brewers totaled 25.

Chicago left-hander Jose Quintana (4-1, 3.40 ERA) will make his second start against Milwaukee this season. The Brewers hammered him on April 5, handing him a loss after he allowed eight hits, three walks and eight runs in three innings.

“They really ambushed me,” Quintana, who needed 32 pitches just to get out of the first inning that night, told reporters about that last matchup.

That game, however, was an outlier. In 11 starts against Milwaukee coming into that contest, Quintana was 6-2 with a 1.62 ERA. Last year alone, Quintana was 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA

Milwaukee batters, though, believe they have unlocked the key to beating Quintana.

“We were laying off the pitches we always swing at,” Hernan Perez told the media. “We were patient (last time). We put good swings on strikes.”

Brewers manager Craig Counsell credited his hitting coach, Andy Haines, for providing an excellent scouting report on Quintana. Cubs manager Joe Maddon, however, prefers to view April 5 as one of those days when Brewers hitters just weren’t missing.

On Friday, Milwaukee will counter with team newcomer Gio Gonzalez, the veteran lefty who signed with the Brewers on April 26.

So far, Gonzalez has made two starts for the Brewers — each against the New York Mets — and he has a 2.61 ERA with no decisions in 10 1/3 innings. He has gone at least five innings in each start and has allowed nine hits, just one walk and no homers.

Gonzalez, who is more crafty than overpowering, does have nine strikeouts in his 10 1/3 innings this year.

For his career, the 33-year-old is 1-1 with a 6.33 ERA in four starts at Wrigley Field. He is 3-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 10 career starts against the Cubs.

Aside from the pitchers, Friday’s game will feature some hot hitters.

For Chicago, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo both homered on Thursday to continue hot streaks.

Bryant, who slugged a solo blast in the first that carried 416 feet to left, has homered in four of five games. Rizzo, who smashed a two-run shot in the fifth 422 feet to center, has six homers in his past 11 games. Both of them hit the first pitch of their at-bats off Trevor Richards.

Milwaukee, meanwhile, is led by right fielder Christian Yelich, the reigning National League MVP. Yelich is having another great year, hitting .356 with 16 homers and 37 RBIs.

“Swing at good pitches,” Yelich said when asked about his secret to success, “whether it’s the first pitch, the last pitch or somewhere in between.”

–Field Level Media

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