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Chicago Cubs

Cubs sweep, pull within half-game of 1st

The Cubs' Jon Lester hits a three-run home run during the second inning Sunday at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs' Jon Lester hits a three-run home run during the second inning Sunday at Wrigley Field.

CHICAGO – If ever a team needed a day off, it’s the Cubs.

As far as their manager is concerned, his guys also deserve one. The Cubs made it four straight games with double-digit scoring Sunday with an 11-10 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Wrigley Field, where the heat index again topped 100.

They nearly squandered a 9-1 lead, as the Twins scored five in the eighth against reliever Dillon Maples to make it 11-10. But they managed to hold on and move to within one-half game of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

The Cubs will get two days off this week – Monday and Thursday – after playing 17 games in 17 days, including a makeup doubleheader.

“I can’t be more impressed with the way our guys played on the field,” said manager Joe Maddon, whose team is 47-35. “Under the circumstances, the heat, they were out there. They played well. They hit well. They ran the bases great. We did so many things well in adverse conditions. So give them a lot of credit.”

Starting pitcher Jon Lester did all he could Sunday to take things into his own hands, both on the mound and at the plate.

Lester hit a three-run homer – the second home run of his career – in the Cubs’ eight-run second inning.

“Yeah, close your eyes enough and swing hard enough, and you’ll eventually run into one,” he said. “No, it’s cool. Obviously, being over here [in the NL] and actually having to be responsible for that nine-hole, it’s important. It’s important to have good at-bats, and I feel I’ve done that regardless of the outcome. I’ve had good at-bats and haven’t just been a one-pitch-out guy.”

Lester also gutted out five-plus innings, taking the ball in the sixth before running out of gas. He earned his NL-leading 11th win of the season against two losses, with a 2.25 ERA.

The upcoming off days should help the Cubs reboot their pitching. They haven’t had a quality start since June 20, when Lester went seven scoreless innings to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. That has taxed a bullpen that has been very good overall this year.

“We need to get the bullpen back in order,” Maddon said. “We need to get Carl [Edwards] back up here [off the disabled list]. We do need a break. Our bullpen needs a break. Our starters need to go more deeply into the game and play more of a formulaic game out of the bullpen.”

It does help when the offense is doing what it’s doing.

The Cubs scored 35 runs in the
three games against the Twins, and their four straight games overall with at least 10 runs scored is the longest since a team-record five-game streak in June 1930.

But a run of quality starts would be most helpful for the bullpen.

“I think there’s always the recognition of that,” Lester said. “As a starter, for me, if you don’t go seven, it’s not a good start. I don’t care about how many runs you give up, if you don’t get into that seventh, it’s not a good start.

“You have to sit back sometimes and look at the situation around you and look at this series and look at these last three days. We don’t have three days like this very often in Wrigley. They happen every once in a while, but usually, you don’t have a series like this with the wind blowing out like it was. I think that puts an added pressure on every pitcher that comes in and trying to be too perfect.

“Hopefully, we can go on a couple-week run here where the bullpen isn’t picking up slack, and we can get into that seventh inning, and it just goes 8-9, and we don’t have to worry about filling in the other two innings.”

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