CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs have played regular-season night games at Wrigley Field for nearly three decades, but there never was one on a Friday.
That will change when the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers square off in the opener of a critical three-game weekend series on Friday at 7:05 p.m. CDT.
The Brewers (72-68) seek to make up lost ground after a three-game sweep by the last-place Cincinnati Reds this week. Milwaukee, which led the National League Central by 5 1/2 games at the All-Star break, is now in third place, five games behind Chicago (77-63).
Milwaukee is also three games behind the Colorado Rockies in the race for the second NL wild card.
The Brewers and Cubs still have seven head-to-head games to play, including four at Miller Park from Sept. 21-24.
“I don’t think anybody needs to be pressing or stressing out, or trying to do too much, because we do have a significant amount of games left against the Cubs,” Brewers right-hander Jimmy Nelson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week. “We control our own destiny. If we go out there and play our game, there are a lot of things that can happen.”
Nelson (11-6, 3.59 ERA) makes his 29th start of the season and third against the Cubs on Friday. Chicago counters with right-hander John Lackey (11-10, 4.74).
Nelson recorded a 1-0 victory and 17th quality start Sept. 1 against the Washington Nationals. He threw seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks. He fanned 11, his sixth double-digit strikeout game this season.
Nelson is 1-6 with a 4.08 ERA in 14 career games (12 starts) against the Cubs, but he is 0-0 with a 6.35 ERA vs. Chicago this season.
Lackey is coming off a similarly dominating performance in his most recent start on Sept. 1. He retired the final 16 batters faced and shut out the Atlanta Braves over seven innings while allowing just three hits and no walks in a 2-0 Cubs win.
“He was really good,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He was making pitches, his velocity stayed up the whole time. Wasn’t really threatened. When he struck out Freddie (Freeman in the first inning), that really told me a lot because you normally don’t see him look (silly) on any pitch, so I thought, ‘Something’s goin’ on here.”
The Cubs are 9-1 in Lackey’s past 10 starts. The right-hander is 6-1 with a 3.83 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break and 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts against the Brewers this season.
Chicago won’t have right-hander Jake Arrieta available for this series or the near future. He is out for up to two weeks with a right hamstring strain.
The Friday game was originally scheduled for a 1:20 p.m. CT start. The Cubs sought to ease restrictions prohibiting Friday night games, and the Chicago City Council granted a one-time waiver.
The Cubs are allowed 43 night games a season. Maddon has said he would like more.
“We just play way too many day games during the week. We just do,” he said month. “Guys need their rest. When you’re constantly going night-day or day-day-day and it’s hot during the summertime, it matters.”