While a certain indecisive quarterback has captivated most of the country as Green Bay Packers training camp opens, Wisconsinites have maintained at least one eye on what's happening in another part of the state. One game out of first place and heading into a four-game series with the team they're chasing, the Milwaukee Brewers have been big news.
Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs will begin a four-game set at Miller Park on Monday, a series that could set the tone for the National League Central pennant race as the final two months of the season unfold. Chicago boasts a record of 61-44, the best mark in the National League, while the Brewers come in at 60-45. Milwaukee's recent winning ways caused a five-game disadvantage in the standings to dissolve over nine games, and the teams were tied for first before Sunday's outcomes.
"It's been a lot of fun, especially what we've been able to accomplish, coming from 8 1/2 down to tie the Cubs," Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said. "That's been pretty exciting.
"I think the roles are kind of reversed. All the expectations are on them. We're just going out there having fun. We learned a lot last year. ... They're expected to win the division, so we'll see what happens."
A torrid first month and a half of the season in 2007 spotted Milwaukee its own 8 1/2-game lead in the standings, but Chicago eventually caught up and won the division by two games.
"We weren't ready to win last year," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "You can say all you want about blowing an eight-game lead, but defensively, we weren't a team capable of sustaining. Our pitching wasn't capable of it. ... This year, we've got defense in place, pitching in place and the experience of going through all that situation."
Neither team will start the series with guns blazing. Despite a 32-19 record at home, the Brewers are 0-2-1 in their last three series at Miller Park. The Cubs, meanwhile, have lost seven of their last 11 games, though they did top the Florida Marlins on Sunday to reclaim their division lead.
Both teams will bring their best pitching to the highly anticipated games. CC Sabathia, undefeated since joining the Brewers, will start the opener against left-hander Ted Lilly. That matchup looks like an undercard compared to the duel looming Tuesday between All-Stars Ben Sheets and Carlos Zambrano.
Ryan Dempster and Manny Parra will battle Wednesday before Thursday's finale between Rich Harden and Dave Bush.
MIL: LHP CC Sabathia (10-8, 3.30 ERA)
Sabathia pitched a three-hit shutout at St. Louis on Wednesday for his third consecutive complete game and his fourth Brewers win in as many starts since a July 7 trade from Cleveland. He faced just a trio of three-ball counts all night and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. The last Brewers pitcher to go the distance in at least three consecutive starts was Cal Eldred, who worked four straight in 1994. Sabathia lost his only career start against the Cubs, allowing nine runs on eight hits in 2 1/3 innings.
CHC: LHP Ted Lilly (10-6, 4.49 ERA)
Lilly is coming off a win against Arizona in which he did it all, giving up three runs on six hits over six innings, as well as hitting a RBI single, stealing a base, throwing out a potential base stealer and helping in a rundown play. The lefty is one of three Cubs pitchers with at least 10 wins. He faced Milwaukee on April 2, losing by a score of 8-2.
Outfielder Jay Gibbons, signed to a Minor League contract earlier in the week, was transferred from Double-A Huntsville to Triple-A Nashville. The former Major Leaguer went 3-for-11 in five games with the Stars, with two RBIs. ... The Brewers' bullpen entered Sunday with a 12-inning scoreless streak, part of a 4-0 record and 0.56 ERA in its last five games. Seth McClung ran the streak to 13 on Sunday before allowing runs in the eighth.
Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.
Tuesday: Brewers (Ben Sheets, 10-3, 2.87) vs. Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, 11-4, 2.96), 7:05 p.m. CT
Wednesday: Brewers (Manny Parra, 9-3, 3.72) vs. Cubs (Ryan Dempster, 11-4, 2.99), 7:05 p.m. CT
Thursday: Brewers (Dave Bush, 5-8, 4.51) vs. Cubs (Rich Harden, 5-2, 2.10), 1:05 p.m. CT
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.