The Milwaukee Brewers can't get any respect and that's just the way they like it.
Preseason forecasts lavished praise on the Cubs and the Houston Astros, the only debate being which team would win the National League Central and which would be the wild card. Nobody noticed the Brewers.
They do now.
"It seems like nobody knows us yet or respects you," said first baseman Lyle Overbay, the most anonymous .338 hitter in baseball. "I like it like that. They don't quite respect you, and you can sneak up on them and get them before they figure it out."
The Cubs didn't figure it out last week in Milwaukee when the Brewers embarrassed them in a three-game sweep. And they couldn't figure it out Friday when they committed mental and physical gaffes in a 3-2 loss that saddled Matt Clement (7-9) with his fifth straight defeat.
The Brewers moved within 1½ games of the Cubs, whose offensive failings have reached epic levels. The Cubs jumped to a 2-0 lead in the second inning, then advanced only one runner as far as second base in the final seven innings, that on a Brewers outfield error.
In the meantime, the Brewers scored single runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings.
The loss was especially stinging for Clement, who drove in the Cubs' first run with his first RBI of the season, as much run support as he has had from his teammates in most of his recent appearances.
But he helped do himself in, setting up the winning run in the seventh through his own inattention.
Milwaukee's Bill Hall, in the starting lineup because third baseman Wes Helms came down with an upset stomach just before the game, singled to left to open the seventh. With Clement still in his stretch while facing Brooks Kieschnick, Hall broke for second.
Clement inexplicably failed to check the runner and said he did not hear teammates yelling for him to step off the mound over the noise from the crowd of 39,968. When his 0-2 pitch to Kieschnick was wild, Hall continued to third, scoring on the RBI single Kieschnick then delivered through the drawn-in infield as a pinch-hitter for starting pitcher Victor Santos (9-3).
"I guess everyone was yelling, but I didn't hear them," Clement said. "If I'd had eyes in the back of my head, I might have seen him take off. I just didn't. He took off and made it."
Santos' triumph gives the Brewers three pitchers with nine victories. The Cubs' distinguished rotation of Clement, Greg Maddux, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood is a combined one game below .500. The Brewers' staff has an ERA of 3.84, fifth best in baseball.
"We have a good pitching staff," Overbay said. "It's just that nobody knows them yet."
The Cubs went meekly in the ninth against Dan Kolb, who recorded his 27th save and is unscored upon in his last eight road appearances.
Derrek Lee led off the second with a single and took second after Michael Barrett's grounder got through Hall for an error. Ramon Martinez walked to load the bases, and Clement dumped a single into short right field to score the first run. Jose Macias' sacrifice fly to left scored Barrett for a 2-0 lead.
The Cubs had Macias at third with one out in the first but failed to score him and had Moises Alou at second in the third and failed again.
"We have to get better at picking up runners [in scoring position]," manager Dusty Baker said. "Especially when you're not scoring a lot of runs."
The Brewers could leave town ahead of the Cubs in the division race with victories Saturday and Sunday. All-Star Ben Sheets is Saturday's scheduled starter, facing Maddux.
"So far I'm impressed," Baker said. "But there are still a lot of games left."