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Cubs keep their battle for first place with the Brewers in perspective

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 07: Jason Heyward #22 of the Chicago Cubs swings at a pitch during the second inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 7, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

MILWAUKEE – This is a bit early to start calling a three-game stretch a critical series. Kyle Hendricks knows that, even if he’s not going to take part in it.

“They’re just another game for us. Yeah, it is June,” said the starting pitcher on Sunday when asked about the Cubs’ three-game series with the Brewers this week at Miller Park. “We’re just trying to keep on playing good baseball.”

But unlike the last few series, if they do so this week in Milwaukee, they’ll be back on top of a division which has belonged to them since the start of the 2016 season. Entering a half-game behind the Brewers for first in the National League Central, the three-game series offers the chance for the Cubs to grab first place in the division. They haven’t been there since they were tied at the top on May 1st, chasing Milwaukee for most of the season as they got off to a fast start.

Certainly the Cubs aren’t going too overboard with the series. In fact its enjoyment to face a familiar foe, instead of standing, that makes the series especially compelling.

“Obviously when you play in the division, people that you know more, the ‘Cat and Mouse’ game becomes more real,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo of the Milwaukee series. “It’s just about taking advantage of opportunities that we get and continuing to play good baseball.”

Not only overall – where the Cubs have won 11 of their last 14 games to put themselves 12 games over .500 – but also against the Brewers. In a pair of four-games series in the first month of the season, the Cubs won 7 of 8 contests, including a clean sweep at Wrigley Field. It’s for that reason that Milwaukee doesn’t have a bigger lead in the division as the Cubs have saved their best baseball for their division rivals.

Next up, however, is a division opponent whom they’ve struggled with this season. After a day off on Thursday, the Cubs will travel to face the Cardinals who’ve won four of their five games against their rivals to the North this year, including a sweep in early May at Busch Stadium.

Both series provide the teams with some ability to set the pace for the playoff chase over the next four months. Like his players, Joe Maddon finds enjoyment in the challenges the week present.

“This is the thing that you’ve really got to love when you’re playing the teams within your division, good teams within your division, one right behind and one right in front of us,” said the manager. “It’s good stuff. I really do anticipate that we’re going to be ready for those games.”

While preparing for them with the proper perspective.