3 takeaways after the Chicago Cubs lost 6-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers to drop 2 of 3 at Wrigley Field, including Nico Hoerner making a case to stick around

3 takeaways after the Chicago Cubs lost 6-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers to drop 2 of 3 at Wrigley Field, including Nico Hoerner making a case to stick around
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Meghan Montemurro, Chicago Tribune
·8 min read
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For eight innings Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field, a bases-loaded walk by Jake Arrieta in the first was all that separated the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs’ hopes of a late comeback were derailed in the top of the ninth, however, with reliever Jason Adam on the mound. The first six Brewers reached base against Adam, sparking a five-run inning that put the game away in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss at Wrigley Field.

The offense couldn’t get going against Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff, who tossed six scoreless innings, and the Cubs finished with four hits. Arrieta recovered from a shaky start in which he surrendered two hits and walked two batters to open the game, quickly finding himself in a bases-loaded, no-out jam with the Cubs down 1-0.

But he recovered after the run-scoring walk and retired the next 15 Brewers. He struck out eight in six innings, representing his most strikeouts since May 25, 2019, which also came against the Brewers when he was with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The loss puts the Cubs back under .500 (10-11) as they embark on a seven-game trip against the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds. Here are three takeaways after the Brewers took two of three in the series.

1. Jake Arrieta’s ability to navigate tough situations with runners on base has been a staple of his success.

Through five starts, Arrieta has been at his best this season in the toughest moments.

The Brewers could have blown the game open in the first and forced the Cubs to play major catch-up before they had batted. The Brewers got to Arrieta quickly with a double, single and walk to load the bases, and a full-count walk on a borderline inside sinker to Travis Shaw put the Brewers ahead 1-0 before Arrieta recorded an out.

The veteran right-hander buckled down, though. He got out of the inning without surrendering another run and didn’t allow another baserunner until the sixth.

“It’s kind of been a pattern with him: Once he settles in, he just really rolls,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Once he (found his release point), he locked it in. I’ve said it a couple of times, you have such trust that once he finds it, he’s going to be just fine. The fastball came around after that first inning of knowing where it was going.”

The Brewers didn’t put another batter on base until Omar Narváez’s leadoff walk in the sixth. Javier Báez’s fielding error allowed Avisaíl García to reach, and García’s stolen base put runners on second and third with nobody out.

Arrieta again didn’t let the inning spiral out of control, especially imperative in trying to maintain the one-run deficit. He struck out the next three Brewers to get out of the sixth.

“Giving up one in the first and being able to squeeze my way out of it, I understood that was about as much as I could give up if we wanted a chance to win the ballgame,” Arrieta said. “Sometimes you’ve got to bear down and make big pitches. The mindset after the first was to get weak contact, try and preserve the pitch count to pitch as deep as I could.”

Part of Arrieta’s success this season stems from stranding baserunners. He has been among the best in baseball in not letting runners score.

Arrieta’s 83.3% Left On Base percentage is the best among Cubs starters and is tied for 20th in the majors. While that LOB% likely isn’t sustainable — his career best is 80% during his 2015 Cy Young Award season — Arrieta isn’t relying on pure stuff to find success. He understands what makes him successful, adjusting as needed whether it’s pitch usage or where he’s throwing around the zone.

Starts like Sunday’s reinforce how Arrieta can navigate challenging situations at this juncture of his career.

“That’s just a normal evolution of a pitcher and a guy that’s been in really big moments and made really big pitches with stuff, and now maybe his stuff is not quite 97 but it’s still really good stuff,” Ross said. “He’s on the corners a little bit more and still has a ton of movement and can manipulate the ball really well in the zone as well on the corner and to the corners.”

2. Nico Hoerner is building a case to stay in the majors after Joc Pederson returns.

When Hoerner was informed he would open the season at the alternate site in South Bend, Ind., the Cubs told him that if a starter got hurt, he would be the first player called up. That came to fruition this past week when outfielder Joc Pederson landed on the injured list Thursday with left wrist tendinitis.

Beyond this opportunity, there are no promises to Hoerner about what comes next. Ross said Hoerner’s status when Pederson comes off the IL is still to be determined. Pederson is eligible to return Saturday, though he won’t join the Cubs on the road trip and will work out in South Bend. Pederson has shown good progress the last two days, Ross said, and could start swinging Tuesday or Wednesday and get live batting practice reps by the weekend.

Meanwhile, Hoerner made his third straight start Sunday.

“Every major-leaguer, especially young major-leaguers, have to go out and prove that they belong here,” Ross said. “He’s well on his way to doing that. There’s guys that come up and force your hand sometimes, too, right? I mean, some guys come up and are playing really well and it’s hard to send them back down. You want to have the best team you possibly can, so, yeah, I don’t think we’ve predetermined anything on that end yet.”

Hoerner is building a strong case to stay on the big-league roster. His defensive versatility in the infield and outfield gives Ross options, both putting together the lineup and having flexibility with his bench.

Hoerner’s baseball IQ was on display in the eighth inning Sunday, when he smartly allowed a pop-up in shallow left to drop with a runner on first. García wasn’t running out of the batter’s box, and with Narváez barely off first base, Hoerner let the ball fall, threw out García and the Cubs retired Narváez in a rundown for a double play.

Hoerner credited Báez for yelling at him that García wasn’t running to first.

“Great communication between the middle infielders, awareness knowing that you’re in the grass, the ball is not going to take that big of a hop,” Ross said. “There’s just a sense of being a great baseball player and his IQ is extremely high, so you love that type of stuff, that baseball mentality and having that communication between the middle infielders. That’s one that really makes you smile, and I’ll hold on to that one.”

Hoerner looked good at the plate during the series, going 4-for-8 with three doubles, four walks and three RBIs. His all-around game was an asset, and if he keeps playing well, he’ll have a strong argument to stick around after Pederson is activated.

3. The Cubs don’t have to worry about facing Brandon Woodruff and Co. for a while.

The Cubs and Brewers have seen each other plenty in the first 3½ weeks. That has meant the Cubs offense being challenged by the best rotation in the majors (2.22 ERA, 10.34 K/9). Sunday’s game was the Cubs’ ninth against the Brewers, accounting for 43% of their first 21 games. They’re 3-6 in the season series.

Only three previous times had the Cubs played nine games against one opponent quicker to begin a season, according to team historian Ed Hartig: 1920 (Reds), 1914 (Cardinals) and 1913 (Reds). After Sunday, the Cubs won’t face the Brewers again for nearly two months until a three-game series June 28-30 in Milwaukee. The Brewers don’t return to Wrigley until August.

Avoiding Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes, who did not start in this series, will be a nice break for the Cubs offense.

“His sinker, his fastball had extra life today,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Woodruff. “It was two-seam hard in and down. His changeup was the best I’ve seen. His off-speed, he commands all three.

“He’s a bulldog up there and it’s fun facing him because you know he’s coming at you, and we just didn’t have it today. He’s had success off us.”