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On paper, the remaining schedule seems to favor the Cubs in their three-team battle for the National League wild-card playoff berth.
On the field, where it actually counts, that could be quite another matter.
Victor Santos and the sub-.500 Milwaukee Brewers dispatched the Cubs 3-1 Tuesday night in front of 41,174 fans at Miller Park in the first match of a three-game series. Frustrated Cubs manager Dusty Baker said he might have to "just shake it up, period. Maybe I'll just break something."
The Brewers have now taken seven of 12 games from the Cubs this season.
"Anybody out there can beat you on any given day," Baker said. "A lot of it depends on who is pitching against you. When you have guys like [Ben] Sheets or Santos
the easier schedule doesn't mean you are going to win. That just means to me that you have to play at your level versus playing at the level of whatever the competition is."
Santos (10-8) beat the Cubs for the third time this season. He checked them on one run and five hits over 61/3 innings. He walked one and struck out six. The Cubs got a strong performance out of starter Carlos Zambrano (three runs, two earned, on five hits, two walks and five strikeouts over six innings) but provided little offensive support.
"We had [Santos] on the ropes early," said Baker. "He threw the ball good enough to beat us."
The Brewers are 5-1 against the Cubs this season in games decided by two or fewer runs.
"Earlier in the season, what made them such a tough matchup was that we didn't have a lot of our quality lefties (pitchers)," Baker said. "They are left-handed strong."
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Sammy Sosa lined his 26th home run of the season over the left-field fence. But the Brewers grabbed a 2-1 lead in the third inning when Bill Hall bounced a two-run triple into the right-field corner.
"I made one mistake and that was the whole game," said Zambrano (11-7), who is 1-2 against the Brewers this year with a 2.75 earned-run average.
An apparent missed call by umpire Wally Bell cost the Cubs a run in the Brewers' fourth inning. With one out, Geoff Jenkins hit a ground ball up the middle that was gloved adroitly by shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. But his hard throw to first was high and glanced off the mitt of Derrek Lee for an error. Brady Clark followed and reached on an error by second baseman Mark Grudzielanek.
Craig Counsell then hit a sacrifice fly to center fielder Corey Patterson, who threw to first in an attempt to double off Clark. Second-base umpire Bell, who rotated over to first to make the call, ruled Clark was safe, even though television replays showed the throw to an outstretched Lee beat Clark to the bag. If Clark had been called out for the double play to end the inning, home plate umpire Bill Welke would have had to rule whether Jenkins had crossed the plate before the out at first.
"He was out," Baker said of Clark. "[Bell told me Lee] came off the bag too soon. That wasn't what I saw."
Lee added: "I felt like I was [on the bag]. That's not the reason we lost the game. I mean, that's one run. Obviously, we would like to have that run, but we didn't get the big hit. We had some runners and couldn't get them in. We hit a lot of home runs, but we haven't got a lot of big hits this season. We have to find a way to get those runners across. I'm frustrated, but we can't let frustration get the best of us. "
The Cubs threatened in the sixth inning when Grudzielanek and Michael Barrett each singled. Pinch-hitter Todd Walker, facing right-handed reliever Mike Adams, grounded into a fielder's choice, leaving runners at the corners with two outs. But Patterson grounded out to first to end the threat.
"There is a sense of urgency. You don't panic. You never panic," said Baker of the wild-card race also involving San Diego and San Francisco. "We are sitting in a good position. We still haven't played our best baseball, we know that. Everybody has hot streaks and we haven't had ours. Hopefully ours will come at the right time or in the nick of time."
The Cubs have lost the first game of the last four series. They have gone 16-15 since the All-Star Break and are 4-7 in their last 11 games.