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Brewers deal Cubs another early blow

Brewers deal Cubs another blow

CHICAGO -- When last the Brewers and Cubs clashed at Wrigley Field, it was August, and Chicago took two of three and went on to win the National League Central by two games.

Now the teams are back for the start of 2008, and with an 8-2 win Wednesday afternoon, Milwaukee turned the tables and ensured its own series win. Yes, it's only April, and yes, both teams have 160 games yet to play, but while Cubs manager Lou Piniella tinkered Wednesday evening with ways to spark his lineup, Brewers manager Ned Yost had a hard time saying that this early series win was not important for his young, but contending, club.

"I mean, I'm not going to say no," Yost said. "We lost our division by two games last year, so every game is important. Is it nice that we're playing the Cubs? Yeah."

Rickie Weeks connected with the game's first pitch for a leadoff home run, setting the tone for a balanced Brewers offense that helped starter Jeff Suppan cruise to victory. While Suppan worked into the seventh inning, all eight of Milwaukee's positional starters had at least one hit in the game, and six different players drove in at least one run. Ryan Braun and Jason Kendall led the way with three hits apiece, with Kendall driving in two runs and Weeks, Braun, Gabe Kapler, Bill Hall and Corey Hart driving in a run apiece.

The Brewers are off to a 2-0 start for the fifth straight season. They will go for a three-game sweep on Thursday afternoon.

"We've got good hitters, top to bottom," Brewers hitting coach Jim Skaalen said. "I'd like to see a whole lot more of that."

There were some not-so-good moments, too. The Brewers had Hart at third base with no outs in the sixth inning after Hart walked and stole second and third base. He wouldn't have scored except for a throwing error by Cubs catcher Geovany Soto.

In the next inning, Kapler, Prince Fielder and Braun hit consecutive singles to load the bases with no outs against right-handed reliever Michael Wuertz and got nothing out of it. Wuertz, throwing split-fingered fastballs to right-handed hitters -- and going against the Brewers' scouting reports -- struck out Hall and Hart on similar offerings down and away, then retired J.J. Hardy on a flyout.

"With the exception of the seventh inning, for the most part we've been really, really good, situation-wise," Yost said. "We've been picking up those runs. ... We like our offense a lot."

The public address announcer had barely called, "Play ball!" before Weeks gave his manager something to like. He jumped on the first pitch from Cubs left-handed starter Ted Lilly (0-1) and sent his seventh career leadoff home run over the left-field bleachers and onto Waveland Ave. Weeks hit three leadoff shots last season, one of them on Aug. 30, against Lilly and the Cubs.

In 4 2/3 innings, Lilly surrendered four runs on five hits.

"Everybody on this club seems to pull in the same direction, and that's not always easy to find," said Kapler, who started in center field and drove in a run with an eighth-inning groundout. "There's a lot of energy in the dugout, and before the game, everybody is really focused. After the game, it's smiles on faces after a victory. It's pretty cool."

"Top to bottom," Kendall added, "we've got guys that play the game the right way."

Derrek Lee and Soto accounted for the Chicago offense with solo home runs against Suppan, who did his part to frustrate Cubs hitters, allowing those two runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.

Lee cut Milwaukee's lead to 3-1 with a homer leading off the fourth inning, and Suppan then walked Aramis Ramirez, but he got a huge lift from a strikeout, throw-out double play with Kosuke Fukudome at the plate. After watching Fukudome go 3-for-3 on Opening Day, the Brewers neutralized him on Wednesday. The Cubs' right fielder was 0-for-3.

It's only two games, but so far Brewers starters Suppan and Ben Sheets have surrendered two runs in 12 2/3 innings.

"It starts with your pitching, above anything else," Yost said. "If your pitcher is out executing his pitches, you can play your defense to it. Benny did that [Monday], and 'Soup' did that in great fashion today. I was very, very pleased with Suppan today. I thought he did a magnificent job."

Suppan credited the defense. Third baseman Hall made one of the Brewers' highlight-worthy plays in the first inning, snaring a hot grounder by Ramirez to end the inning. Hall also initiated a double play for the first and second outs of the second inning, and Kendall finished the key strikeout, throw-out double play in the fourth.

"With the amount of times we're going to be playing the Cubs, it's important to win the series," Suppan said.

At the end of the day, Yost kept things in perspective.

"It's just two days," Yost said. "We've played two games, and we've played very, very well."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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