Cole Hamels stoked the rivalry between Chicago and Milwaukee last season when he called attention to the large number of Cubs fans who headed north and packed the Brewers' stadium for the series.
"When you have a majority of Cubs fans in the stands, I don't know if that's a rivalry yet," Hamels said to reporters last September. "They aren't going to like me for the comment, but look at the ticket sales. When they start to get a little closer and their fans sell out, then I think that's kind of the understanding (of a rivalry). But Cubs fans travel well."
As Hamels guessed, his comments did not sit well with Brewers faithful.
The 35-year-old southpaw will be in the spotlight when he takes the mound in front of hometown Brewers fans -- and perhaps a good number of visiting Cubs fans -- on Saturday night. Hamels (0-0, 9.00 ERA) gave up five runs in five innings in his season debut March 31 against the Texas Rangers, and he is looking to regain the success he enjoyed in late 2018.
The pressure already is mounting for the Cubs, who have lost six games in a row after winning their season opener. Chicago has given up a whopping 55 runs during its losing streak, which included a 13-10 loss to the Brewers on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee has won six in a row and is playing with confidence. The Brewers tallied 15 hits in the series opener and enjoyed homers from a handful of players, including Ryan Braun, who finished with a game-high four RBI.
Yasmani Grandal hit his first home run since signing a free agent deal with Milwaukee this offseason. Hernan Perez, Orlando Arcia and Eric Thames also will look to stay hot after belting long balls in the series opener.
Defense also has proved to be vital to the Brewers' early success. Milwaukee has committed only one error, which is the lowest number in the National League, and none of its defensive starters have committed an error.
"We've played good defense," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said in comments published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We've been in so many close games, and I think we're going to highlight defense in close games."
Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes (0-0, 7.20 ERA) will make the second start of his young career. He appeared in 30 games as a relief pitcher in 2018, and he gave up four runs in five innings in his starting debut March 31 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
In three relief stints against the Cubs, Burnes is 0-0 with a 4.15 ERA. He has given up two runs on four hits in 4 1/3 innings.
As for Hamels, he is 7-3 with a 3.60 ERA in 15 career starts against Milwaukee. He has 92 strikeouts in 100 innings.
Hamels will have a chance to quiet the Brewers' bats. But will he be able to quiet their fans after his public criticism of them?
"They have great players, but in this game of baseball, you want to see the fans in the stands," Hamels said last season. "To be able to have the Cubs fans travel in the masses that they do, it's great to see."
--Field Level Media
Hamels ready to renew rivalry with Brewers -- and their fans