Brewers manager Ned Yost was asked before Tuesday night's game whether the Cubs would get a huge psychological lift if they beat Ben Sheets after handling CC Sabathia on Monday.
"Psychological lifts evaporate about the first of August," Yost replied. "And we're not even there yet, so …"
A couple of hours later the Cubs battered Sheets in the sixth inning of a 7-1 victory, taking a 2-0 lead in the four-game showdown between the NL Central leaders.
Whether Yost is channeling Dr. Sigmund Freud remains to be seen, but beating the Brewers' pair of aces on back-to-back nights at Miller Park was definitely a pick-me-up for a Cubs team that has struggled to win on the road all season.
Carlos Zambrano pitched eight innings of shutout ball, improving to 12-4, and the Cubs knocked out 15 hits, breaking open a tight game by stringing together seven straight hits off Sheets during a five-run sixth.
"He was good, man," Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron said.
"I don't think too many pitches were over the plate, but the ball was cutting, sinking, diving … He was just throwing it everywhere, moving it around. Making up pitches. I think he had fun out there."
With the win, the Cubs increased their lead over Milwaukee to three games while remaining four games ahead of third-place St. Louis.
"We're pleased that we won the first two," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Let's not relax now. We've got two more important games to play, and hopefully they go our way."
The Cubs already have made a statement in the series. They are buoyed by the fact that their starters lead the league in pitching, and the staff as a whole leads the league in pitching since the All-Star break.
"I think [the two wins are] huge," said Mark DeRosa, who drove in two runs. "It's early, but at the same point it gives our team a lot of confidence to beat two quality pitchers on back-to-back nights. But it doesn't mean anything if we don't go out there and win one of the next two games and take the series."
The Cubs led 1-0 in the sixth when Kosuke Fukudome's two-run triple past a diving Ryan Braun ignited the five-run inning, knocking Sheets out of the game. Aramis Ramirez finished the night with four hits, including three doubles.
After finishing June on the disabled list, Zambrano ended July with a 4-1 record, allowing two or fewer runs in four of his five starts. He scattered five hits Tuesday, tying a season high with nine strikeouts while walking only two.
Zambrano was lifted after eight innings and 118 pitches, and the Brewers avoided the shutout by scoring off Jeff Samardzija in the ninth.
"We want to get this guy late-inning closing ... uh, pitching experience on the road," Piniella said. "It's part of the education of pitching in the bullpen."
The only time Zambrano became unglued was after popping up a bunt in the fifth inning. He promptly broke a bat over his knee, tempting fate but avoiding an injury.
Piniella wasn't as upset as he was when Zambrano did it in May at Wrigley Field, but he also knows Zambrano's legs are almost as important as his arm.
"I just don't want to see a nice big bone bruise on his thigh for no reason," Piniella said. "I wish I was strong enough to do that when I played. I had to use a water cooler."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times