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The division race between Cubs and Brewers could be on the line

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CHICAGO – In their first matchup against National League Central competition, the Milwaukee Brewers simply weren’t sharp enough.

While they fought back to win the opener on Friday and battled their way to narrow Saturday’s loss, the Brewers did not perform at a high enough level when it counted.

That was more the case Sunday than in the previous two games, as the Chicago Cubs cruised to a 5-0 victory behind a dominant start from Javier Assad and a fifth-inning rally against Freddy Peralta.

Now the division is tied, just two days after the Brewers extended their lead to two games.

For a young Brewers team, it was a trial-by-fire introduction to the Chicago-Milwaukee rivalry, which always seems to provide exciting, competitive games that matter in front of packed stadiums.

“100%. 100%,” Brewers infielder Tyler Black said when asked if he got the full experience this weekend. “It’s definitely very exciting.”

Here are three examples of ways the Brewers failed to realize Sunday’s loss.

The command eludes Freddy Peralta

From the first inning, it was clear that Peralta would have to fight his orders.

He threw 24 pitches and only 11 were strikes. He had a particularly hard time spotting his fastball and didn’t earn a called or swinging strike with it until the final pitch of the inning, a swinging strike on an elevated 97 mph heater for Michael Busch.

Peralta didn’t give up a run in the first inning, but he never solved the venue riddle.

In total, Peralta walked six batters in five innings, becoming the first Brewers pitcher to walk at least that many in five or fewer innings since doing so in May 2018 against the Minnesota Twins. He walked Christopher Morel three times, which no pitcher had ever done before.

“It shouldn’t have happened. I have to be better than that,” Peralta said of his walks.

The order didn’t burn Peralta through four scoreless points, but ultimately burned him in the fifth.

After a one-out infield hit for Pete Crow-Armstrong, Peralta hit .197-hitting catcher Miguel Amaya in the elbow with a two-strike pitch.

Two offerings later, Nico Hoerner got a fastball just above the knees and over the middle of the plate and hit a two-run double to right-center.

“That’s the hardest part about this. I put zeros on the board,” Peralta said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. And then everything changed quickly after one zero. Crazy.”

A wild pitch two batters later brought home Hoerner, who otherwise would not have scored, making it 3-0 in Chicago.

Peralta pitched despite being handed a five-game suspension following his ejection Tuesday. He appealed the suspension to remain on regular rest and pitch a big game against the Cubs.

Peralta confirmed he plans to withdraw the appeal on Monday and serve his suspension. That would allow him to return on Saturday.

Offense had no chance against the Cubs starters

The Brewers offense came alive against Chicago’s bullpen each of the first two games, but was weak against the starters.

Cubs starting pitchers Hayden Wesneski, Jameson Taillon and Javier Assad all had their way with the Brewers by taking control of the strike zone early in the counts and allowing hitters to chase when traffic struck.

Assad followed up seven scoreless runs from Wesneski on Friday and six shutouts from Taillon a day later with six innings of putouts in the final. Assad followed his predecessors not only in terms of results, but also in terms of process.

After the Brewers went 3 for 16 with men on base against Wesneski and Taillon, they were a paltry 0 for 9 in those situations against Assad. They hit just .120 without extra base hits with runners against Cubs starters in the series and had not a single hit in 10 at-bats with a man in scoring position.

“He’s a pitcher, man,” Murphy said of Assad. “He’s a pitcher. He throws both above and below. He gets ahead and then he throws over and under and it’s difficult for young hitters. You feel like you’re always behind in counting. He nibbles the right way. I liked him last year and I knew he would be effective for these guys this year. Taillon was great too.

“(Wesneski) the first night his breaking ball was exceptional. So we came across three guys who threw really, really well. Offensively, we did not get runners into scoring position. But a great experience for guys. When you have six guys in there who are basically rookies, these things are going to happen. We will learn from this.”

Assad has been excellent for Chicago through a calendar year — he has the lowest ERA of anyone with at least 100 innings in the Majors since May 1 of last year — but Sunday’s no-show against a starter was more than a one-off for the Brewers .

Milwaukee’s offense against starting pitching has been slow of late. Dating back to the start of their previous series with Tampa Bay, the opponents have a 1.55 ERA and have posted at least six shutout innings in four of six games.

Murphy was asked if he would like to see anything different from his offense in the way they attack starting pitchers.

“Of course, of course,” he said. “There are many things you would like to see differently, but you cannot speed up the maturation process. Sometimes they have to go through it.”

Tyler Black gets a taste of big league challenges

It happens to every player who reaches the majors. More often it is sooner rather than later.

After a stellar first two games of his career at the plate against the Rays earlier this week, Tyler Black got an overly heavy dose of the challenges of big league pitching in Chicago.

Black batted all three games in the middle of the series, going 1 for 12 with four strikeouts and a walk. His only hit was a single.

Black, who went 3-for-7 with two doubles in his first two games, was hitless in six trips home with a runner on base. Four of those at-bats ended in strikeouts, two of which came with a pair of chances and the tying run in scoring position late in Saturday’s game.

It wasn’t just black who had a hard time attacking. Murphy indicated after Sunday’s game that he felt the Cubs were particularly cautious with William Contreras and Rhys Hoskins and instead went after the Brewers’ young bats.

“They hit their spot well,” Black said. “If you miss pitches, it definitely becomes difficult. It gives these guys a chance to establish themselves, so they definitely shouldn’t miss any pitches, but we have to give them some credit. They hit their spot.”

One of those strikeouts was when Murphy opted not to pinch a hit for Black, showing confidence in a player the Brewers believe will be an impactful bat in the long run.

In the ninth inning Saturday, Milwaukee trailed with men on first and second base. Cubs reliever Hector Neris, a right-hander who has reverse splits thanks in large part to his splitter, was on the mound and Murphy opted to stick with Black, a left-hander who was 0 for 4 that day, rather than go with Joey Ortiz . , a right-handed hitter.

“If you analyze it all, and use your baseball experience, what that would mean for Tyler Black, who we see as a really good offensive player, but also a really good offensive player,” Murphy said. “The intention was to leave him there. But yes, I did consider (pinch-hitting).”

All in all, Black viewed the weekend as a learning experience, even if the results didn’t go his way.

“All that matters is winning,” Black said. “Obviously we were immediately thrown into the fire. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I really felt the intensity. I’m definitely looking forward to the future.”