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Brandon Woodruff looks to get Brewers back on track vs. Cubs

Apr 3, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff (53) throws a pitch against the Texas Rangers in the first inning during a spring training game at American Family Fields of Phoenix. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs are well aware one game does not make a season. However, the Cubs are hopeful a season-opening win over the Milwaukee Brewers is a sign they’re a lot closer to being a first-place-caliber team in the National League Central than a contender for last place.

The Cubs will look to at least assure themselves a split of the first series of the 2022 campaign Friday afternoon, when they are slated to host the Brewers in the second game of a four-game set.

Chicago left-hander Justin Steele (4-4, 4.26 ERA in 2021) is scheduled to take the mound against All-Star right-hander Brandon Woodruff (9-10, 2.56).

The Cubs and Brewers were the first teams in the majors to take the field Thursday, when Ian Happ’s tiebreaking, two-run double in the seventh inning lifted Chicago to a 5-4 win.

While the Cubs built their winning rally against relievers Aaron Ashby and Jake Cousins, they also fared well against the Brewers’ starter — reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, who gave up three runs over five innings. All three of those runs came in the fifth, when Patrick Wisdom lofted a sacrifice fly and Nico Hoerner hit a two-run homer.

Happ batted fourth after making just 14 starts in the cleanup spot last season, when the departed trio of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant combined for 80 starts in the No. 4 slot. He finished with three hits for the Cubs, who finished with a losing record last season for the first time since 2014.

Chicago right fielder Seiya Suzuki went 1-for-2 with two walks in his U.S. debut following nine seasons in Japan.

“Man, to be honest, I really believe in the group that we have right now,” said Chicago catcher Willson Contreras, who played in 76 games for the World Series-winning Cubs in 2016. “Like I told them during (a team) meeting, they’re here for a reason. They earned their spot. And if the front office chose them to be here, it’s because they can do something special.”

Nothing that happened Thursday discouraged the Brewers, who have made the playoffs a franchise-record four straight seasons and are looking to reach the World Series for the first time since 1982.

The Brewers overcame a 3-1 deficit Thursday to tie the game in the top of the seventh. They had the go-ahead run at the plate in the eighth, when Rowdy Tellez hit a sacrifice fly, and the ninth, when Willy Adames singled with one out before David Robertson struck out Christian Yelich and retired Andrew McCutchen on a grounder.

“We’re at the start of the marathon,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

McCutchen added, “With the amount of talent we have up and down the order, if guys go out and they can be themselves, I think the sky’s the limit for our team.”

Steele went 0-1 with a 3.97 ERA in four games (two starts) against the Brewers as a rookie last season. Woodruff, who finished fifth in the NL Cy Young balloting in 2021, is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in 13 games (11 starts) against the Cubs, the team he has opposed more than any.

–Field Level Media