Cubs look to get offense going vs. Brewers

CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Cubs are going to not only maintain their lead in the National League Central Division, but make a postseason push, manager Joe Maddon insists his team's bats need to heat up.

Heading into Sunday's series finale against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs have averaged just more than two runs per game over their last seven games.

And after the Cubs built up a cushion in the Central over the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals with a six-game winning streak, the lack of offensive firepower has kept them from growing their lead while dropping the first two games of this weekend's pivotal series.

"We haven't been hitting as well as we had," Maddon said Saturday. "So we've got to get moving a little bit offensively we just have to get back in that flow."

The Cubs saw their lead in the Central drop to three games after Saturday's 15-2 loss to the Brewers, who lost four of their previous five games before arriving in Chicago on Friday. As had been the case in back-to-back losses, the Cubs were unable to find any offensive groove on Saturday, when they failed to produce a hit off Brewers starter Chase Anderson until the fourth inning.

"It started bad and it just got worse," Maddon said after Saturday's loss.

The Cubs continue to move closer to getting a pair of key offensive pieces back as shortstop Addison Russell (foot) and catcher Willson Contreras (hamstring) have progressed and could rejoin the club soon. Maddon said Saturday there is no specific timetable for either to return, but Russell said Saturday he wants to be completely healthy to be at his best for a potential playoff push.

On Sunday, the Cubs will again look to create more room between themselves and the Brewers. Kyle Hendricks (6-4, 3.29 ERA) will take the mound in his fourth start this season against the Brewers.

Hendricks, who is 6-3 in 13 career starts against Milwaukee, hasn't lost since Aug. 4 and will look to provide some stability on the mound while the Cubs offense attempts to find its footing.

The Brewers will counter with right-hander Zach Davies (16-8, 3.77), who has lost two of his three starts against the Cubs this season. Davies is 4-4 in eight career starts against Chicago.

Davies will look to help the Brewers complete the sweep of the Cubs as Milwaukee looks to continue to shrink the gap between themselves and the division leaders. Pitching will continue to be a point of emphasis of the Brewers, who will have to play out the remainder of the regular season without right-handed ace Jimmy Nelson.

Nelson was ruled out for the year after being diagnosed with a partially torn labrum and a right rotator cuff strain on Saturday.

Manager Craig Counsell said Saturday that the Brewers will need to determine who will fill Nelson's spot in the rotation. Nelson's absence won't change the mentality of the rest of Milwaukee's starters, Counsell said.

"It's going to change on the days when Jimmy was supposed to pitch," Counsell said. "That's when day when it's going to change. We've got to find a way to get outs in those games."

After Chase Anderson shut the Cubs down on Saturday, the Brewers enter Sunday with a chance to get within two games of the division leaders.

"We've got to sweep (this series), we've got sweep the next series, we have to sweep every season," Milwaukee shortstop Orlando Arcia said Saturday. "To us, we have to win every game."
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