MILWAUKEE -- There was no late drama this time. Jose Quintana and the Cubs made sure of that.
After a trio of 10-inning thrillers to begin this four-game showdown of National League Central contenders, Quintana surpassed 200 strikeouts on the way to his second career shutout, and Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo delivered late two-run hits for a 5-0 win over the Brewers in Sunday's finale at steamy Miller Park.
"Winning three out of four here is a big boost to our confidence," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The thing I like is that we reacted in a playoff manner in these four games. Our mental intensity could not be beat."
Chicago's magic number to clinch the NL Central dropped to two over St. Louis, since the Cardinals lost Sunday in Pittsburgh. The Cubs' magic number over the Brewers in the Central is also two, so while the Cubs could knock the Cardinals out of the division race with a win in the series opener between the clubs on Monday, the earliest Chicago could clinch the division would be Tuesday, because the Brewers are off on Monday.
"It will be nice to do it there, I'll just say that," Zobrist said about the Cubs possibly clinching against their rivals in St. Louis. "We have to win the games. It's a big series. This series [against the Brewers], as John Lackey said before the series, 'This is not a small series, boys.' We knew it was a big one here in Milwaukee and it'll be another big one in St. Louis. We intend to clinch there, and I think for a lot of the guys who have been around here for a long time, it'll be very satisfying."
Milwaukee fell to 5 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the division, and two games behind the Rockies for the second NL Wild Card spot.
Quintana, a trade target of the Brewers in July before the White Sox sent him to the Cubs, scattered three singles, two of which didn't get past the infield, and struck out 10 while going the distance on 116 pitches. With one regular-season start to go, he has 202 strikeouts this season.
"That was outstanding," Maddon said of the lefty's outing. "Just from the beginning, you could see he wanted to do something like that today. He kept getting better [as the game progressed], kept hitting his spots."
Quintana and Brewers starter Chase Anderson dueled in a 1-0 game until the seventh, when the Cubs began pulling away. Zobrist connected for a two-run home run off Anderson in the inning and Rizzo ripped a two-run double off Carlos Torres in the eighth to propel the Cubs to their third victory in the four-game series, and their 10th win in 12 games overall.
"[Quintana] was on his game today, and I just did the best I could to match him," said Anderson, who will have to wait to see whether his final regular-season start in St. Louis proves meaningful. "Unfortunately, we couldn't come out with a win."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Jay takes flight: The Brewers were held without an extra-base hit for the seventh time this season thanks to Cubs outfielder Jon Jay, who robbed Jesus Aguilar of a likely double in the fourth. After scoring from first base on Kris Bryant's double for the game's first run in the top of the frame, Jay laid out for a diving catch of Aguilar's line drive toward the left-field corner to end the bottom of the frame. The Brewers' only hit off Quintana the rest of the way was Keon Broxton's infield single in the fifth.
"To Jon Jay, I say, 'Thank you,'" Quintana said.
"He was a big thorn, for sure," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Jay. "He made the defensive play of the game today, for sure. He had a nice series."
Game-breaker: Anderson, making his final home start of the regular season, had retired eight straight batters before Willson Contreras hustled for an infield single leading off the seventh. Zobrist hammered the next pitch, a fastball up in the zone and on the inner half of the plate, sending it 105.9 mph off the bat, according to Statcast™, and 403 feet to the second deck in right field for a 3-0 Cubs lead. It was Zobrist's first homer since Aug. 29 against the Pirates.
"I tried to do the best I could to keep the score within range," Anderson said. "I probably should have gone with a different pitch to Zobrist. He always ambushes with guys on base. To his credit, he put a good swing on it, and that's what you're supposed to do with those pitches. I tried to throw a sinker away and I just cut it on accident. … It kind of went into his swing instead of away from his swing."
"He throws a fastball and I hit a fastball," Zobrist said of Anderson. "He left a few over the middle of the plate today, and I took advantage of them. I was ready and he left it there and I took advantage of it."
"It was shaping up to be the same game [as the first three in the series]. … I couldn't be prouder of the way we played. One-hundred percent. It was a good baseball series, man." -- Counsell
"We came to Milwaukee and we knew we were facing a tough team. These games have been tough. Our minds were ready for today. It was a big game. Now we're thinking about tomorrow." -- Contreras
Brewers center fielder Broxton has taken some lumps this season -- he has the highest strikeout rate in the NL, and was briefly demoted to the Minors in July -- but he also added his name to the franchise record books on Sunday when he stole second base in the fifth inning. It made Broxton the eighth different player in Brewers history to hit at least 20 home runs and steal at least 20 bases in a season. The group has combined for 13 such seasons, led by Braun's four.
"That's something I've always dreamed about doing," Broxton said. "To accomplish that in the bad season I've had is really uplifting for me. But right now I'm thinking about the whole club."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Zobrist's home run was a two-run shot because Contreras had just beat a bouncer along the third-base line for an infield hit. The Brewers' Travis Shaw made a nice barehanded play and threw a one-hopper to first base that was so close the Brewers opted to challenge the safe call. It stood, and Zobrist hammered the next pitch into the seats.
The Cubs have asked Contreras to take it easy running the bases because he injured his right hamstring doing just that and missed one month.
"I knew I was going to be safe on that play, that's why I ran hard," Contreras said. "With it 1-0, I have to run to the bases hard. If we were winning by three or four [runs], I could take it easy."
"From an experienced hamstring puller, it's really incredible to watch," Maddon said of Contreras' quick recovery.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Jon Lester will open a four-game series against the Cardinals on Monday at Busch Stadium. The lefty is coming off what was described as an awkward start as he struggled with his command against the Rays. He says he's fine physically. This will be his fifth start against the Cardinals this season, and so far, he's 1-1 with a 3.28 ERA. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CT.
Brewers: After a day off Monday, Zach Davies and the Brewers begin their final push for a postseason berth with the first of three home games against the Reds, which will be followed by three on the road against the Cardinals. Tuesday's 6:40 p.m. CT series opener against the Reds offers Davies and the Brewers a chance to atone for getting swept in three games at Great American Ball Park earlier this month.