Mike Nadel: Down goes CC, down goes Sheets, up go Cubs

Mike Nadel

First CC. Then Big Ben. Who's next? Jim Slaton, Bill Travers and Teddy Higuera? I mean, what other all-time "greats" can the Brew Crew throw at the Cubs?

The invaders from Chicago did more than beat Milwaukee for the second straight night, more than increase their division lead to three games, more than give their fans every reason to shout down the Brewers' faithful.

They won the psychological game within the game.

With the NL Central lead on the line, the Cubs went into Milwaukee, took on their rivals' "co-aces" - Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia - and came away with two impressive victories.

Sheets arguably is the No. 1 pitcher in the 40-year history of the noodle-armed Brewers organization. He unquestionably is one of baseball's most talented hurlers. All the Cubs did was pound him until he cried "Mommy!" during a five-run sixth inning that fueled Tuesday night's 7-1 thumping.

That came 24 hours after the Cubs wore down and ultimately knocked out left-hander Sabathia, a hired gun who had developed an aura of invincibility since arriving in a trade three weeks earlier.

The Cubs couldn't have made a louder statement had they had used a megaphone.

The statement wasn't only about their batters getting to The Big Two, either.

Monday, it was about their own lefty, Ted Lilly, matching Sabathia pitch for pitch. Tuesday, it was about Carlos Zambrano showing the Brewers what an ace really looks like.

"Lilly and Zambrano aren't exactly chopped liver," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We respect the two guys we beat, but ... we've got some pretty good pitching ourselves."

When Zambrano is on, he's as good as anybody in the big leagues. He has been on most of the season, which is why he's 12-4 with a 2.80 ERA - better numbers than those of Sheets or Sabathia. And he certainly was on at Miller Park, allowing five measly singles over eight scoreless innings as he made one of the majors' most dangerous lineups look like the gang from "A League of Their Own."

It's OK, Milwaukee, there is crying in baseball.

Sheets actually was doing fine until the sixth, allowing only one run to that point, but Zambrano was dominating the Brewers - buying time for his teammates to break it open as he again established himself as a big-game pitcher.

So complete was the thrashing that big hits were delivered by Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome, multimillionaires who had been hitting like bush-leaguers lately. The Cubs, who had been lousy on the road and had been having trouble scoring, have been sharper offensively since Alfonso Soriano's return from the disabled list.

What a turnaround for a team that, just a few days ago, was caught in the standings by the hard-charging Brewers and seemed on the brink of another classic Cubbie collapse.

Turns out, Milwaukee couldn't handle the heat. Nothing new there.

Yes, everybody knows of the Cubs' troubled history ... but at least they have a history to speak of. What do the Brewers have? Eleven winning seasons in four decades.

Every great player in franchise history has been a hitter. Put all their pitchers together and they'd lose an arms race to Switzerland.

Slaton, their all-time winner, had more losses (121) than victories (117). Sheets is their career strikeout leader with an eight-year total of 1,167. They've had three 20-game winners ever and nary a starter with a lifetime ERA under 3.60.

The oft-injured Sheets never has won more than 12 games in a season but he has made four All-Star appearances and has a winning career record. That's good enough for best-ever status in Brewtown. Naturally, he probably will leave as a free agent after the season. As will Sabathia.

The pressure is on for Brewers to win this season - and they still might.

Earlier this month, they eliminated a six-game Cubs lead, so three shouldn't be too daunting. And they're still a notch ahead of amazingly resilient St. Louis in the NL wild-card race. They have flaws, sure, but they also have Sheets, Sabathia and several good hitters.

Still, no matter what they say, their confidence simply has to be shaky given what has taken place so far this week.

After Monday's loss, Milwaukee star Ryan Braun said: "We have to come back tomorrow. We've got Ben Sheets going, and I like our chances."

Now what?

Oh, Moose Haas, where are you?

Mike Nadel ( is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at