Chicago pushed its lead over Milwaukee to 4 1/2 games Thursday, rallying late for a 5-3, 10-inning victory. The Cubs snapped a three-game losing streak to the Brewers, who had outscored Chicago 20-3 during that stretch.
"This is a fun time of year, September, it's getting late in the year," said Kyle Schwarber, who got the Cubs started Thursday with a home run, his 29th of the year. "To be able to have the kind of race we're in now, it's exciting and it's good for baseball, I think."
Lackey (11-11, 4.62 ERA) will be making his first start since being ejected for arguing balls and strikes after 4 2/3 innings last Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals. He is 1-2 with a 3.79 ERA against Milwaukee this season, and he beat the Brewers July 30 at Miller Park.
For his career against the Brewers, Lackey is 6-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 14 starts.
Milwaukee turns to rookie Brandon Woodruff, who has as many big league starts -- seven -- as Lackey has made in the postseason over the past three years.
Woodruff, 24, is 2-2 with a 3.28 ERA in his first major league season. He bounced back from his first rough outing by pitching well his last time out, holding the Miami Marlins to three runs over seven innings on Sunday at Miller Park.
He has never faced the Cubs before.
Like most of his teammates, Woodruff finds himself in the thick of a playoff race for the first time in his career, but Brewers manager Craig Counsell has been impressed that the pressure and spotlight isn't stunting his young roster.
"These are the games you want to play in," Counsell said. "You feel like you're playing for something. You've worked really hard to get to this point. You've been on a long journey and have earned the right to play in these games, but you feel like there's a lot ahead of you.
"More than anything, I think you feel like you've earned the right to play in these games, and that's what makes it exciting. Everybody looks ahead a little bit, everybody knows what's at stake and what could happen. You should allow yourself to do that."
Milwaukee has dropped two in a row -- in heartbreaking fashion -- but if there is a bright side to the last two nights it is that the Brewers still have a decent chance to make the playoffs. The Colorado Rockies dropped their fourth consecutive game Thursday, and they lead Milwaukee by just one game for the second NL wild card.
"It's two tough (losses), but we're still sitting in a pretty good spot," Counsell said. "We can play well for the last nine days and still do something good. Every loss is going to be incredibly tough right now. We just have to wipe it away."