BREWERS (69-66) AT CUBS (73-62)
2:20 p.m. ET; NBCSCH, FSWI, MLB.TV
The Chicago Cubs (-1.5) expect to welcome back a familiar face when they host the Milwaukee Brewers (+1.5) in the rubber match of a three-game series Sunday afternoon.
Veteran Ben Zobrist, who left the team in May because of personal reasons, is set to rejoin his teammates as part of an expanded roster for September. The 38-year-old played a vital role in the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship run and is hoping to be part of another playoff chase.
However, the postseason is far from guaranteed for the Cubs, who enter the day trailing the first-place St. Louis Cardinals (+1) by 2 1/2 in the National League Central division.
Milwaukee sits in third place, 6 1/2 games back of the Cardinals and four games behind the Cubs. The Brewers know they need to put together a strong final month in order to prevent a long offseason.
Injuries to key players such as rookie second baseman Keston Hiura and infielder Mike Moustakas do not help.
“We’ve got some guys that are banged up, so we’re going to have to have guys step up,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said to reporters.
Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish (5-6, 4.25 ERA) is scheduled to make his 28th start of the season. He has 183 strikeouts in 152 1/3 innings but also has given up an NL-leading 31 homers.
Darvish has been much more effective since the All-Star break. He is 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA in nine starts in the second half. Before the break, he was 2-4 with a 5.01 ERA in 18 starts.
In four career starts against the Brewers, Darvish is 1-1 with a 2.05 ERA. He earned a victory in his only meeting against Milwaukee this season as he gave up one run on five hits in five innings.
Darvish credited Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel for some of his recent success. Kimbrel taught Darvish how to use a new grip on his curveball, which has led to more break on his pitches, keeping hitters off balance.
“My (Aug. 21 start), right before the game, in the bullpen session, I tried the hard curveball, which Kimbrel taught me a week ago, and I felt good,” Darvish told the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s why I used it.”
Meanwhile, Kimbrel marveled at how quickly Darvish mastered the pitch.
“That guy’s amazing,” Kimbrel said. “He can do anything he wants.”
Meanwhile, the Brewers will turn to veteran left-hander Gio Gonzalez (2-2, 4.34), who is slated to make his 14th start. He is seeking his 130th career victory over parts of 12 seasons with the Oakland Athletics (+1.5), Washington Nationals (-1.5) and Milwaukee.
In 13 career starts against the Cubs, Gonzalez is 4-3 with a 2.77 ERA. He already has faced the Cubs three times this season, going 1-0 with a 1.65 ERA (three earned runs in 16 1/3 innings).
Gonzalez will try to bounce back from his last outing, in which he allowed nine runs (seven earned) on nine hits in five innings against the Cardinals. He issued four walks for the third start in a row.
“It was definitely one of those games where it was on me,” Gonzalez told reporters after his performance against the Cardinals. “The whole game, I did nothing to help us out. Put us behind extremely early. It just wasn’t my night.”
–Field Level Media