By Nick Shepkowski–
(CBS) A quick look at the record books shows a pretty lame history between the Cubs and Brewers.
For starters, the Cubs’ main rival has been and always will be the Cardinals, and the Brewers would say the same about the Twins or White Sox. For a couple of teams so close in proximity, the Cubs-Brewers matchups up until now have been pretty uneventful.
They were each other’s first interleague opponents in the summer of 1997 when the Cubs took two of three from a Brewers squad then residing in the AL Central, and a year later Sammy Sosa would hit 12 of his 66 home runs against the new addition to the National League. Save for a Brant Brown dropped fly ball though, the Cubs and Brewers hardly had any real drama.
Heck, it took until 2005 for the Brewers to even have their first .500 season as a National League team.
Briefly in 2007 and 2008, the two showed a threat of a new rivalry as a young Brewers core jumped out to an 8.5-game lead in 2007 before fading post All-Star break. In 2008, Milwaukee made its first playoff appearance of any kind since 1982, winning the NL wild-card as Chicago won the division. But the rivalry that appeared to be growing stopped as soon as it got started.
The Cubs quickly got old and bad, forcing a complete overhaul of their front office. The young Brewers that appeared destined to be a threat in the division for the foreseeable future would make just one more playoff appearance with that core, in six games to the Cardinals in the 2011 National League Championship Series. Those same Cardinals became the class of the NL Central for the next half-decade.
Sure, Bob Uecker will take a sideswipe at Cubs fans at just about any opportunity he’s given, and Ryan Braun will get booed as loud as any opposing player in Wrigley Field, but in terms of an actual rivalry, this one has left plenty to be desired. There’s some jabbing between fans at each ballpark just like anywhere else, but in a competitive, meaningful sense? Not at all.
At least, until 2017.
In April, Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio made headlines for questioning why Brewers first baseman Eric Thames was making such a splash and showing so much power to the opposite field, insinuating he was using performance-enhancing drugs. Cubs starter John Lackey offered a couple of winks when asked about the oppo-taco as well. There was finally some life into this matchup, which I hesitate to even call a “rivalry” until now.
Then this weekend happened, which featured Saturday’s postponement two hours before first pitch. It was a rainout, except the rain never came in the afternoon.
Perhaps there was residual anger on the Brewers’ part because of the Thames comments made by the Cubs earlier this season, but they were nonetheless upset with the postponement. Before Sunday’s series finale, Milwaukee general manager David Stearns questioned the decision, while manager Craig Counsell mentioned it was the first time players had came to the park with sunburns the day after being rained out.
The Brewers had been red-hot entering Saturday, winners of 10 of their previous 12, while the Cubs hadn’t been playing to their potential quite yet, even after sweeping the Reds earlier in the week. In the Brewers’ eyes, it was the Cubs dodging their hot bats and getting rest for a team that only has one off day before mid-June. Both left-handers in the Cubs bullpen, Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing, were expected to be unavailable Saturday after long outings Friday.
And on top of it all, the Brewers have been among the biggest surprises in the NL, playing division-leading baseball nearly two months in. I still doubt their staying power for 2017, but it does appear Stearns has the Brewers headed in the right direction, one I’d assume they’ll continue to head in for years to come.
And the Cubs, coming off of their first World Series in 108 years, are seeing what life is like when you’re no longer the “Loveable Loser,” a tag so many have wanted to lose for so long.
These first couple Cubs-Brewers series of 2017 have felt different than almost all the series of older days.
Maybe the Brewers fade out and aren’t a player in the NL Central in even a couple of weeks or maybe they stay hot and hold our attention until August or September. I don’t know how it plays out, otherwise I’d be in Vegas getting rich off of it.
What I do know is that with the anger shown between the two early in 2017 and with both fighting for a division lead, I can’t help but think back to the early days of Bulls-Pacers, White Sox-Twins or Blackhawks-Canucks and think we might be seeing the newest meaningful rivalry for a Chicago team.