CHICAGO (AP) — Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers were on top of the NL Central for much of the season’s first half. Then Anthony Rizzo and the Chicago Cubs moved into the lead of what just might be baseball’s best division.
Then Yelich powered the Brewers to one more charge.
So of course, it’s going to extra innings.
Milwaukee visits Chicago on Monday for the first tiebreaker in major league history in which the loser doesn’t go home. The winner advances to the Division Series, the loser to Tuesday’s wild-card game against the loser of the NL West tiebreaker later Monday between Colorado and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Just like the last couple weeks, we’ve approached almost every one of these games like a do-or-die game,” Brewers slugger Ryan Braun said. “Tomorrow won’t be any different. Obviously, it will be a challenging place for us to go and win but we’re playing good baseball and if we go in there and do the things we’ve done over the last couple of weeks we’ll forget about where we are.”
The winner at Wrigley Field gets and home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs, starting with a Division Series on Thursday against the wild-game winner.
“We put ourself in a position to come down to one game to win the division and get a couple days off,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after Sunday’s 10-5 victory over St. Louis. “If we win it, we’ll be ecstatic. If we lose, we’ve played more games in a row before, so we’ll be ready to play.”
Chicago had a five-game lead on Sept. 2, but Milwaukee rallied with seven straight wins and nine of 10 overall. Yelich led the way, rising to the top of the NL MVP conversation and making a bid for the Triple Crown by hitting .383 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs in his last 30 games.
“We need to be ready to go,” Yelich said. “They are a great team. We’ve played each other tough all year. It’s only fitting that we have to do one more.”
The playoff-tested Cubs are going for their third straight NL Central title. They went 11-8 against the Brewers this season but dropped two of three in each of their two September series.
Planning for a possible tiebreaker, Chicago has Jose Quintana lined up on regular rest. The left-hander is 6-2 with a 1.60 ERA in 10 starts against Milwaukee.
“He’s pitched really well against us all year,” Yelich said. “I’m sure they know that. We know that. It’s going to come down to execution like it has all year. It should be a fun one.”
Jhoulys Chacin gets the ball for Milwaukee. Chacin is 15-8 and a 3.56 ERA in 34 starts, but the Brewers’ deep bullpen might be the biggest concern for the Cubs.
“The big thing is to get up early and hold onto a lead, that’s the big thing,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. “To stay out of the beefier part of their bullpen also, they’re very good.”
Associated Press writers Joe Totoraitis and Rich Rovito in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
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