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Yu exits rehab start after one inning

MLB.com

Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish, who has been sidelined since May 20 with right triceps tendinitis, exited his rehab start for Class A South Bend on Sunday after just one inning.

He allowed one hit, struck out one and walked one in 19 pitches before reportedly leaving with the trainer before the start of the second inning.

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Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish, who has been sidelined since May 20 with right triceps tendinitis, exited his rehab start for Class A South Bend on Sunday after just one inning.

He allowed one hit, struck out one and walked one in 19 pitches before reportedly leaving with the trainer before the start of the second inning.

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Darvish has made eight starts with the Cubs, posting a 1-3 record and 4.95 ERA while striking out 49 and walking 21 over 40 innings.

"I want to come back to the big league level," Darvish said Friday through his interpreter. "And then hopefully be better than my last big league outing. I want to come back stronger than ever."

Chicago Cubs, Yu Darvish

Cubs' solo HR vs. Bucs not enough this time

Chatwood struggles in spot start, bullpen follows with 6 scoreless
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Tyler Chatwood, who leads the Majors in walks issued this year, continued to struggle with his command in a spot start against the Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday night, walking three while allowing three runs over two-plus innings in the Cubs' 3-1 loss.

"It wasn't a whole lot different than the last two nights," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It really wasn't. We gave up three runs in one inning; otherwise you had yourself another 1-0 game."

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PITTSBURGH -- Tyler Chatwood, who leads the Majors in walks issued this year, continued to struggle with his command in a spot start against the Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday night, walking three while allowing three runs over two-plus innings in the Cubs' 3-1 loss.

"It wasn't a whole lot different than the last two nights," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It really wasn't. We gave up three runs in one inning; otherwise you had yourself another 1-0 game."

View Full Game Coverage

Chatwood faced the minimum in the first inning but opened the second by issuing back-to-back walks to Josh Bell and Francisco Cervelli. Chatwood worked Adam Frazier into an 0-2 count in the ensuing at-bat before elevating a changeup that was lined into center field for an RBI double, giving the Pirates their first run of the series.

Colin Moran doubled Pittsburgh's advantage in the next at-bat, swinging on a cutter from Chatwood and driving in Cervelli on a groundout. Adeiny Hechavarria then lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Frazier to make it 3-0.

Video: CHC@PIT: Hechavarria drives in Frazier on sac fly

The Cubs sent Chatwood back out to pitch the third but lifted him following a four-pitch walk to Corey Dickerson to lead off the frame. It was Chatwood's MLB-high 93rd walk of the season.

"I didn't see it getting better," Maddon said. "The two walks led to two of the three runs. … I know we're not scoring runs, and I know [Pirates starter Joe Musgrove] is pitching really well. So it's a bad assumption to think that if you continue to let them maybe get four or five [runs] at that point, that you would have any chance."

Chicago signed Chatwood, 28, to a three-year deal last offseason after he spent five seasons with the Rockies. The right-hander began 2018 in the starting rotation, posting a 4-5 record with a 4.89 ERA in 19 starts before making the move to the bullpen.

He appeared to take a step forward in his last relief appearance, throwing three scoreless innings against the Nationals on Aug. 11. When asked what he can take away from Saturday's short start, Chatwood replied, "Keep working."

"It's the only thing I can do," said Chatwood, who was starting for injured left-hander Mike Montgomery. "I'm fighting myself and trying to beat another team. So it feels like I'm fighting uphill. But all you can do is keep trying to come back, and regain the form I had in the past."

Video: CHC@PIT: Russel, Baez tur 6-4-3 double play

The bullpen strung together six scoreless innings from four relievers, but the Cubs weren't able to produce enough offense to climb out of an early hole.

Musgrove compiled seven strikeouts over seven innings, with his only blemish coming in the third inning. Following two quick outs, Ben Zobrist ripped an 0-2 fastball into the right-field seats to cut the Cubs' deficit to two runs.

Saturday marked the third straight game in which Chicago's offense was limited to a solo home run.

"We played good baseball," Maddon said. "We ran the bases well, we caught the ball on defense, our bullpen was outstanding. Our bats just have to come alive a bit. Otherwise, I'm pleased with the game."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Missed chance: Willson Contreras reached on a bunt single with one out in the fifth inning. Thanks to aggressive baserunning on a Tommy La Stella single, the Cubs set up runners on the corners with a two-run deficit. Addison Russell battled Musgrove for a seven-pitch at-bat that ultimately ended in a strikeout, then Zobrist flied out to end the inning and the run-scoring opportunity.

Video: CHC@PIT: Musgrove strands a pair in the 5th

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
With two out and two on in the fifth inning, Gregory Polanco ripped a 2-1 fastball to center field that appeared as though it would score at least one run. However Jason Heyward rushed forward, making a slick sliding grab to end the frame and keep the Cubs' deficit at 3-1.

Video: CHC@PIT: Heyward makes nice sliding, run-saving catch

HE SAID IT
"We could be sitting on 0-3 in this series just as well as we could be sitting 2-1. We're very fortunate. So we have to get the offensive mojo back." -- Maddon, on the Cubs' lackluster offense this series

UP NEXT
Left-hander Jose Quintana will get the start for the finale of a four-game series with the Pirates at PNC Park on Sunday at 12:35 p.m. CT. Quintana has lost his last two starts, allowing 10 earned runs on 12 hits over 11 1/3 innings. Right-hander Jameson Taillon will start for Pittsburgh.

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Chicago Cubs, Tyler Chatwood, Ben Zobrist

Morrow encouraged by first bullpen session

Cubs closer working to return from right biceps injury
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Cubs closer Brandon Morrow took another step toward returning from his right arm injury by throwing about 25 pitches in a bullpen session at PNC Park on Saturday.

"I thought it was OK," Morrow said. "I threw the ball really well. [There's] just stuff sticking around that I think I'm going to have to live with the rest of the year. So if it holds up and stays the same, I think I should be good."

PITTSBURGH -- Cubs closer Brandon Morrow took another step toward returning from his right arm injury by throwing about 25 pitches in a bullpen session at PNC Park on Saturday.

"I thought it was OK," Morrow said. "I threw the ball really well. [There's] just stuff sticking around that I think I'm going to have to live with the rest of the year. So if it holds up and stays the same, I think I should be good."

Morrow, 34, is on the 10-day disabled list for right biceps inflammation, having last pitched for the Cubs on July 15. On Saturday, he described the current state of the injury as a bone bruise near his right elbow. He said he has not lost strength in the arm despite the soreness.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon pointed out the similarities in the recovery paths of Morrow and third baseman Kris Bryant (left shoulder inflammation), who recently began swinging off a tee in the batting cages in addition to fielding grounders.

"[Morrow] still has a little bit of that discomfort in there," Maddon said. "I know he's feeling better. It's not unlike KB. They're kind of like the same guy right now. When they do come back, they may have to play with being less than 100 percent. And they can."

Morrow said his next step will be "two or three" more bullpens and a simulated game, followed by a Minor League rehab assignment, barring any setbacks.

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Chicago Cubs, Brandon Morrow

Longest home runs for every MLB team

Statcast measures farthest blast since 2015 for all 30 clubs
MLB.com

Ever since Babe Ruth launched Major League Baseball into the live-ball era with his awe-inspiring home runs, wowed fans have been asking: "How far did that ball go?"

Teams had their own methods for estimating home run distance for nearly a century. But now, the launch of Statcast™ has given us a whole new tool to answer the question, thanks to the tracking technology at every MLB ballpark.

Ever since Babe Ruth launched Major League Baseball into the live-ball era with his awe-inspiring home runs, wowed fans have been asking: "How far did that ball go?"

Teams had their own methods for estimating home run distance for nearly a century. But now, the launch of Statcast™ has given us a whole new tool to answer the question, thanks to the tracking technology at every MLB ballpark.

Here is a look at the longest homers hit by each of the 30 MLB clubs since Statcast™ began tracking home run distances at the start of the 2015 season.

American League East

Blue Jays: Josh Donaldson, April 23, 2015, vs. BAL; Sept. 17, 2017, at MIN
Distance: 481 feet (Watch them: HR No. 1; HR No. 2)
Both of these big flies were demolished. The first, with a 112.5-mph exit velocity, Donaldson launched into the second deck at the Rogers Centre. He hit the second even harder, at 113.5 mph, reaching the upper tank at Minnesota's Target Field. Full Blue Jays leaderboard

Orioles: Jonathan Schoop, Aug. 26, 2015, at KC
Distance: 484 feet (Watch it)
The Orioles have had their share of big sluggers in recent years, but it's Schoop who holds this title. One of baseball's best sluggers at second base, he jumped on this Johnny Cueto pitch that tailed in off the inside corner and kept it just fair down the left-field line at Kauffman Stadium. Full Orioles leaderboard

Rays: J.P. Arencibia, Sept. 7, 2015, at DET; C.J. Cron, Aug. 18, 2018, at BOS
Distance: 464 feet (Watch them: Arencibia's; Cron's)
Arencibia played only 24 games for Tampa Bay -- all in 2015, his final MLB season -- but he had no shortage of power. The opposing pitcher for this home run, the Tigers' Randy Wolf, was also in his final season. Nonetheless, they combined for an entry in the Rays' Statcast™ record book.

Arencibia got company when Cron showed off some light-tower power at Fenway Park in the dog days of August 2018. Cron crushed a 112.9 mph, 33-degree, 464-foot moonshot off David Price way over the Green Monster and over Lansdowne Street. Full Rays leaderboard

Red Sox: Hanley Ramirez, April 29, 2017, vs. CHC
Distance: 469 feet (Watch it)
Before this, Ramirez was tied with David Ortiz for the longest Red Sox homer, at 468 feet. But here, facing former Boston hurler John Lackey at Fenway Park, he took that honor all for himself. Ramirez drilled a center-cut two-seamer way over the Green Monster for a monstrous solo shot. Full Red Sox leaderboard

Yankees: Aaron Judge, June 11, 2017, vs. BAL
Distance: 495 feet (Watch it)
Judge became a sensation in 2017 because of feats like this one. The AL Rookie of the Year cleared the left-field bleachers at Yankee Stadium with a 118.6 mph, 495-foot homer. It was the longest homer of 2017 and tied Judge for the second-longest big fly in Statcast™ history. Full Yankees leaderboard

AL Central

Indians: Mike Napoli, Sept. 9, 2016 vs. MIN
Distance: 463 feet (Watch it)
The Party at Napoli's reached the highest deck at Target Field on this September night, as this blast helped the first baseman reach a career-high 93 RBIs on the season. Napoli had also hit a 464-foot ball in foul territory the night before at Progressive Field.

"That's good for bragging rights," Napoli's teammate, Rajai Davis, told MLB.com. "That's an awesome, great feeling. I don't think I've ever hit the ball that far in batting practice. He's doing it in games. That's awesome. We can all admire that." Full Indians leaderboard

Royals: Brandon Moss, July 1, 2017, vs. MIN
Distance: 477 feet (Watch it)
Moss left his mark during his lone season in Kansas City, golfing this pitch to help spur a four-run comeback for the home side against the rival Twins. Moss would retire the following spring, but his power clearly remained in his bat until the end. Full Royals leaderboard

Tigers: J.D. Martinez, July 21, 2015, vs. SEA
Distance: 467 feet (Watch it)
Not to be outdone by Nelson Cruz's 455-foot shot in the top half of the third inning, Martinez one-upped Seattle's slugger in the bottom half with this impressive blast to straightaway center at cavernous Comerica Park. The dinger impressed just about everyone in the ballpark, except perhaps the slugger who hit it.

"It all means the same to me," Martinez told MLB.com about his big fly. "I don't care. People get caught up on [distance]. To me, I really pay no mind. I just hit it, and I just hope it gets out." Full Tigers leaderboard

Twins: Kennys Vargas, June 20, 2017, vs. CWS
Distance: 483 feet (Watch it)
There really wasn't any doubt about this homer as soon as Vargas' bat met this pitch from White Sox starter Derek Holland with a scorching 114.1-mph exit velocity. Vargas' shot climbed high above the bullpen in left-center at Target Field for one of four 450-plus foot homers the first baseman hit in less than 800 at-bats in a Twins uniform. Full Twins leaderboard

Video: CWS@MIN: Vargas crushes a 483-foot home run

White Sox: Avisail Garcia, April 3, 2018, vs. TOR
Distance: 481 feet (Watch it)
Garcia was coming off a terrific 2017 campaign in which he finished second in the AL batting race with a .330 average, but he showed he could be much more than a slap hitter with this prodigious blast at Rogers Centre. Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ's slider caught too much of the plate, and Garcia punished it with a blistering 116.7-mph exit velocity.

"It was a pretty impressive blast, just from standing in the dugout and watching it," White Sox manager Rick Renteria told MLB.com. "Anybody who is a fan of baseball must have been impressed by that shot." Full White Sox leaderboard

AL West

Angels: Mike Trout, July 8, 2015, vs. COL
Distance: 477 feet (Watch it)
Trout's second homer of the night travelled deep to straightaway center field, landing halfway up the bleachers at Coors Field. Better yet, Trout's solo blast tied the ballgame and led to an eventual 3-2 win for the Angels. Full Angels leaderboard

Astros: George Springer, May 31, 2017, vs. MIN
Distance: 473 feet (Watch it)
Springer's blast capped a two-homer day against the Twins, part of a massive series for the eventual World Series champions in which they set a franchise record for runs scored in a three-game series.

"That's all I've got," Springer said of the homer. "That's about all I can hit it." Full Astros leaderboard

Athletics: Matt Olson, Sept. 15, 2017, vs. PHI
Distance: 483 feet (Watch it)
Olson's sky-high blast at Citizens Bank Park came at the peak of an incredibly powerful rookie season in which he crushed 24 homers in just 189 at-bats for Oakland. Phillies starter Mark Leiter Jr. knew he was in trouble as soon as Olson connected; all there was left to do was wait and see where the slugger's blast would eventually land. Full A's leaderboard

Mariners: Nelson Cruz, Sept. 24, 2016, vs. MIN
Distance: 493 feet (Watch it)
Few players in the game can crush a baseball like Cruz, and the Boomstick found the third deck at Target Field with this neck-craning blast. Cruz's shot remains among the longest homer hit outside the thin air of Coors Field, and it came one night after he had launched a different 454-foot homer for Seattle. Full Mariners leaderboard

Video: SEA@MIN: Cruz crushes 493-ft homer

Rangers: Nomar Mazara, May 25, 2016, vs. LAA
Distance: 491 feet (Watch it)
The rookie Mazara raised his profile substantially with this towering drive to the upper deck at Globe Life Park, turning on and punishing an offspeed pitch from Angels starter Hector Santiago.

"That was loud," said Rangers catcher Bobby Wilson of Mazara's dinger. "You need earplugs for that one." Full Rangers leaderboard

National League East

Braves: Freddie Freeman, June 13, 2015, vs. NYM
Distance: 464 feet (Watch it)
Atlanta's most consistent slugger got a hold of this first-inning fastball from Mets ace Jacob deGrom, pulling it high and deep onto the right-center-field bridge at Citi Field. Full Braves leaderboard

Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton, Aug. 6, 2016, vs. COL
Distance: 504 feet (Watch it)
This is it -- the longest home run since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015, and the only one projected at more than 500 feet. The 504-foot distance may have been aided by the thin air at Coors Field, but Stanton has shown plenty of times that he doesn't need any help to clear the fence. Full Marlins leaderboard

Video: Must C Crushed: Stanton connects on 504-foot home run

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes, April 24, 2018 vs. STL
Distance: 463 feet (Watch it)
Cespedes was off to a tough start to the 2018 season, batting .195 with an MLB-most 37 strikeouts entering this Tuesday night matchup in St. Louis. But with a pair of runners on in the fifth, New York's big slugger proved his power was still very much intact. Cespedes tied up the Cardinals with this moonshot that landed next to the "Big Mac Land" seating section in left field, surpassing Justin Ruggiano's 461-foot homer from Aug. 23, 2016, which also came at Busch Stadium. Full Mets leaderboard

Nationals: Michael A. Taylor, Aug. 20, 2015, vs. COL
Distance: 493 feet (Watch it)
Rockies starter Yohan Flande was cruising against the Nationals until Taylor gave his club a humongous game-tying lift on this blast to left-center. Taylor's dinger may have received an assist from the friendly Coors Field environment, but his 110.1-mph exit velocity was no joke. Taylor's ideal 26-degree launch angle also helped this ball go a long way. Full Nationals leaderboard

Phillies: Maikel Franco, July 10, 2016, vs. COL
Distance: 471 feet (Watch it)
Rockies reliever Jason Motte attempted to go up and in on Franco with a fastball, but the Phillies third baseman was ready for the challenge. Franco turned quickly on the pitch, pulling it into the high altitude at Coors Field for a long line-drive homer. Full Phillies leaderboard

NL Central

Brewers: Domingo Santana, July 26, 2017, vs. WSH
Distance: 476 feet (Watch it)
Nationals Park has housed plenty of its own sluggers, from Bryce Harper to Anthony Rendon to Ryan Zimmerman. But it was the visiting Santana who etched his name atop the ballpark's list of longest home runs on this summer evening. Santana turned on an inside fastball from Gio Gonzalez and crushed it over the visitors' bullpen, high into the left-field concourse. Full Brewers leaderboard

Cardinals: Marcell Ozuna, April 3, 2018, vs. MIL
Distance: 479 feet (Watch it)
Ozuna's first Cardinals home run also established him atop his new team's home run distance leaderboard. Facing Brewers starter Chase Anderson, Ozuna connected with a 117.2-mph exit velocity and sent Anderson's offering deep to left-center -- also setting a new Statcast™ mark for the longest homer at Miller Park. Full Cardinals leaderboard

Cubs: Kris Bryant, Sept. 6, 2015, vs. ARI
Distance: 495 feet (Watch it)
Wrigley Field can become a launching pad when the wind blows out toward the bleachers, but even as a rookie, Bryant proved he didn't need much help launching prolific blasts. This one bounced off the new scoreboard in left field -- fittingly right next to Bryant's own picture -- to further build Bryant's prestige with the North Siders. Full Cubs leaderboard

Video: ARI@CHC: Statcast™ on Bryant's blast off scoreboard

Pirates: Pedro Alvarez, Oct. 4, 2015, vs. CIN
Distance: 479 feet (Watch it)
Pittsburgh's hulking slugger decided the right-field seats at PNC Park weren't enough on the final day of the 2015 regular season, instead clearing the bleachers completely and depositing this ball into the Allegheny River. Alvarez simply demolished the pitch, connecting with a 115.4-mph exit velocity and uppercutting with an ideal 29-degree launch angle. Full Pirates leaderboard

Reds: Eugenio Suarez, June 2, 2016, vs. COL
Distance: 465 feet (Watch it)
Listed at just 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds, Suarez struck a blow for undersized infielders with this massive shot to left-center at Coors Field. This was actually Suarez's second homer of the game, capping an impressive evening for the third baseman. Full Reds leaderboard

NL West

D-backs: Jake Lamb, April 29, 2017, vs. COL
Distance: 481 feet (Watch it)
In the days before the humidor, balls flew out of Chase Field. What's surprising about Lamb's blast isn't where it was hit, but the opposing pitcher he victimized. The Rockies' Tyler Anderson is a left-hander, and southpaws overall had been extremely effective against Lamb. But in this at-bat, the platoon disadvantage didn't bother Lamb at all. Full D-backs leaderboard

Dodgers: Joc Pederson, June 2, 2015, at COL
Distance: 477 feet (Watch it)
Considering the Rockies are in their division, it's no surprise that the Dodgers hit their longest homer at Coors Field: a majestic blast by Pederson way up into the center-field bleachers. It came in a series in which Pederson crushed four home runs -- one in each game. Full Dodgers leaderboard

Giants: Brandon Belt, May 22, 2015, at COL
Distance: 475 feet (Watch it)
Another NL West club, another entry from the friendly environment of Coors Field. Belt jumped on a hanging changeup and launched it far into the third deck in right field. This type of blast has been a rarity for the Giants, who hit the second-fewest homers of 420-plus feet (74) from 2015-17, ahead of only the Braves. Full Giants leaderboard

Padres: Franchy Cordero, April 20, 2018 at ARI
Distance: 489 feet (Watch it)
Franchy absolutely crushed this one. The D-backs' Matt Koch grooved Cordero a fastball, and Cordero hammered it 116.3 mph all the way up the scoreboard in dead center at Chase Field, instantly establishing a new longest home run of the 2018 season and a Padres Statcast™ record. He obliterated the team's previous best of 465 feet, which had been set by Melvin Upton Jr. in June of 2016. Cordero's blast is also the longest hit at Chase Field since Statcast™'s introduction in 2015, and the 10th-longest hit by anyone in baseball since 2015. Full Padres leaderboard

Video: SD@ARI: Cordero crushes 489-ft. HR at 116.3 mph

Rockies: Mark Reynolds, July 21, 2016, vs. ATL
Distance: 484 feet (Watch it)
Yes, the Rockies' longest home run came at home. Reynolds, the powerful veteran, got ahead in the count 2-0 against a rookie left-hander, Hunter Cervenka, who fired a fastball over the middle of the plate. Reynolds demolished it at 108.8 mph, sending a drive most of the way up the bleachers beyond the left-center-field wall. Full Rockies leaderboard

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSimonMLB.

Cubs seal 1-0 win with record-tying 7th DP

Hamels delivers 7 stellar innings; Schwarber homers in 2nd
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Cole Hamels remains unblemished in a Cubs uniform.

In his fourth start with Chicago since being acquired from Texas, Hamels struck out three over seven innings as the Cubs handed the Pirates a 1-0 loss for the second straight night at PNC Park on Friday. The Cubs have won each of Hamels' four starts, and the southpaw is now 3-0 with the club after starting the season 5-9.

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PITTSBURGH -- Cole Hamels remains unblemished in a Cubs uniform.

In his fourth start with Chicago since being acquired from Texas, Hamels struck out three over seven innings as the Cubs handed the Pirates a 1-0 loss for the second straight night at PNC Park on Friday. The Cubs have won each of Hamels' four starts, and the southpaw is now 3-0 with the club after starting the season 5-9.

View Full Game Coverage

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Hamels didn't have his "top-shelf stuff" on Friday, as he gave up five hits and walked a pair of batters. But he was backed by a defense that turned five double plays with him on the mound before adding two more later on, including the last play of the game -- tying the Major League record for a nine-inning game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

It had been nearly 50 years since the last time a team completed the feat. Houston turned seven in a win over the Giants on May 4, 1969, and the Yankees did it against the A's on Aug. 14, 1942, per Elias.

Tweet from @mattkellyMLB: .@EliasSports says: The #Cubs tied a modern record tonight by turning SEVEN double plays in a 9-inning game. That had only happened twice before: 8/14/1942 -- Yankees (vs. A's)5/4/1969 -- Astros (vs. Giants) @Cubs

"There's days where you get those ground balls and you get those double plays. And just, gosh, it's surprising the matter of how many we were able to get," Hamels said. "But they are a pitcher's best friend. Just to see how great they stayed with it, and were able to pull that off, especially to end innings and stop rallies. With such a tight game, you can't afford one mistake. And the guys just came through."

Video: CHC@PIT: Hamels twirls 7 shutout innings vs. Pirates

For the second night in a row, a solo home run provided the Cubs with all the offense needed to prevail. After Chicago hit into a double play of its own in the second inning, Kyle Schwarber launched a 1-0 fastball from Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams into the right-field seats for the game's only run.

Despite producing just two runs over the past two nights, the Cubs extended their winning streak to three games. They've now won seven of the last 10 and opened a 4 1/2-game lead over the Brewers for first place in the National League Central. The addition of Hamels, coupled with the recent success of Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, has helped energize a squad that has propelled itself into being a front-runner in the pennant race.

Video: CHC@PIT: Schwarber drives a solo homer to right field

"Everybody goes out there, they play to win," said Hamels, whose ERA with the Cubs is 0.72. "They're doing everything they possibly can. I know even if the results aren't backing up on the stat sheet at the end of the day, guys were out there trying their best. I think just to be able to see and recognize that guys are going to pick up each other, that's what you've got to love about a team."

Hamels was removed after seven innings, and the Cubs used a quartet of relievers -- Brandon Kintzler, Jorge De La Rosa, Steve Cishek and Jesse Chavez -- to combine for two stifling innings and secure their NL-best 71st win.

"[Hamels] pitched with his heart, and he pitched with his brain today," Maddon said. "That's how we got through this. I think what he learned tonight was that our defense can play for him, and that's a good thing for a pitcher to know."

Video: CHC@PIT: Baez, Rizzo combine for 2 after a review

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Record-tying twin killing: Clinging to the one-run lead, the Cubs turned to Cishek in the ninth inning. The right-hander gave up a leadoff single to Corey Dickerson and threw a wild pitch during his at-bat with Starling Marte, allowing the potential tying run to move into scoring position. Cishek struck out Marte on five pitches, then was lifted for Chavez.

Fittingly, the game ended when, after walking Gregory Polanco, Chavez induced an inning-ending double play from David Freese.

Video: CHC@PIT: Chavez gets save on Cubs' 7th double play

SOUND SMART
• It was the third time a Cub has homered in a 1-0 victory this season. Ian Happ did it on Thursday, and Schwarber repeated his feat from an April 26 win over the Brewers.

• The Cubs are just the fourth team since 1908 to win back-to-back games 1-0 with a home run in each game. The Giants accomplished the feat early this season on March 29-30. The Angels did it July 15-17, 1964, and the Tigers did it May 10-11, 1960.

HE SAID IT
"There's always going to be days where you're not as sharp and [I'm] not able to punch out as many guys as what I think I'm kind of used to. But at the same time, you have to pitch. And that's what I've kind of learned throughout my career. You have to pitch. You can make great games with whatever you have. And I think that's what I've really tried to focus on as I've been able to learn." -- Hamels, on his performance

Video: CHC@PIT: Hamels strikes out Marte in the 4th inning

UP NEXT
Tyler Chatwood will make a spot start against the Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. CT. Chatwood, working in place of the injured Mike Montgomery, has made 19 starts for the Cubs this season, posting a 4-5 record with a 4.98 ERA. He's issued an MLB-high 90 walks in 2018 through 22 appearances. Right-hander Joe Musgrove will start for Pittsburgh.

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Chicago Cubs, Jesse Chavez, Cole Hamels, Kyle Schwarber

Who's leading the crowded NL MVP Award race?

MLB.com @castrovince

Who is in the running for the National League MVP Award? The better question might be, "Who isn't?"

While the foremost members of the American League MVP Award field are fairly well established (Mike Trout is having the best Mike Trout season, Jose Ramirez is putting up one of the great seasons by a third baseman in history and Mookie Betts is the central figure of a Red Sox team for the ages) the NL field seems to evolve by the hour. There is a cluster of similarly strong statistical cases on the position player side and even some brewing discussion about pitchers who could contend for the honor.

Who is in the running for the National League MVP Award? The better question might be, "Who isn't?"

While the foremost members of the American League MVP Award field are fairly well established (Mike Trout is having the best Mike Trout season, Jose Ramirez is putting up one of the great seasons by a third baseman in history and Mookie Betts is the central figure of a Red Sox team for the ages) the NL field seems to evolve by the hour. There is a cluster of similarly strong statistical cases on the position player side and even some brewing discussion about pitchers who could contend for the honor.

Six weeks from now, some uber-hot stretch by a particular player on a team sealing an October entry could make all of this moot, but for now, there are legit MVP arguments to be made in many markets. So here's one man's ranking of the NL MVP Award field, with a quick look at each guy's case.

(All stats are through Thursday.)


1. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
.975 OPS (2nd), 162 OPS+ (1st), 157 wRC+ (1st), 5.3 bWAR (tied for 1st among position players), 5.0 fWAR (tied for 1st)
You know how many qualified NL players had a lower OPS than Carpenter's .558 mark as of May 15? Just two: Lewis Brinson (.529) and Carpenter's teammate Dexter Fowler (.551), neither of whom (spoiler alert) will be appearing on this list.

Video: WSH@STL: Carpenter rips go-ahead 3-run homer in 8th

So strictly within the context of 2018, this might be the most unlikely MVP Award case of them all. And it also might be the best. As you can see, I'm putting more emphasis on advanced offensive rate stats, but do note that Carp is leading in good old-fashioned dingers (33), too. And if storyline matters to you, he's powered the Cards back into contention in the second half.

Carpenter also makes his own salsa, which should be worth like 0.1 WAR, at least.

2. Freddie Freeman, Braves
.939 OPS (4th), 154 OPS+ (2nd), 150 wRC+ (2nd), 5.2 bWAR (3rd), 5.0 fWAR (tied for 1st)

There is nothing especially unusual about Freeman's 2018. Though his batting average has never been higher (and is tops in the NL) other more meaningful rate stats like OPS, OPS+ and wRC+ are darn near identical to his 2016 and '17 seasons (the latter of which, unfortunately, was truncated due to a broken left wrist).

Video: MIL@ATL: Freeman extends streak to 14 with a double

So it's not news that Freeman is awesome at baseball, but suddenly this season -- as a function of the Braves finally having a contending team around him -- he is a household name and prominent NL MVP Award pick. Though teammate Nick Markakis deserves some down-ballot love and Ronald Acuna Jr.'s importance becomes more pronounced by the day, Freeman probably deserves the top honor as much as anybody right now and can win it if he and Atlanta finish with a flourish.

3. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
.981 OPS (1st), 145 OPS+ (6th), 145 wRC+ (6th), 4.8 bWAR (tied for 4th), 5.0 fWAR (tied for 1st)

Arenado has finished in the top eight of the NL MVP Award voting each of the past three years, but he has never finished higher than fourth. There is a known bias against numbers accrued in Coors Field, and, anyway, Arenado wasn't helped by the fact that the Rockies' lone postseason appearance in his tenure was last year's second Wild Card slot, when his case was complicated by the historic leadoff production of teammate Charlie Blackmon (Arenado finished ahead of Blackmon but received one fewer first-place vote).

Video: COL@HOU: Arenado drills his 30th homer of the season

This year, Trevor Story's strong year could complicate things, though probably not to the degree that Blackmon did. The bigger issue might be the right shoulder injury Arenado has battled in recent days. But with the Rox deeply embroiled in the NL West race, Arenado is again a worthy candidate.

4. Javier Baez, Cubs
.896 OPS (7th), 130 OPS+ (13th), 132 wRC+ (tied for 13th), 4.8 bWAR (tied for 4th), 4.2 fWAR (tied for 5th)

Baez has been the most valuable everyday player on a first-place Cubs team, and his WAR total helps reflect the value of his defensive versatility and 19 steals.

Video: CHC@PIT: Baez makes sprawling stop in the 3rd

But Baez has a .325 on-base percentage that drags down his overall offensive profile relative to the rest of the league. The only time in the past 40 years that a position player won the MVP Award with an OBP below .350 was Andre Dawson in 1987. He, too, was a Cub, so maybe there's some cosmic symmetry there, but Baez would still appear to have his work cut out for him if the usual standards are applied here.

5. Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs
.920 OPS (6th), 137 OPS+ (9th), 145 wRC+ (5th), 4.1 bWAR (tied for 6th), 4.2 fWAR (tied for 5th)

Like Carpenter, Goldschmidt has asserted himself with an in-season surge (his OPS bottomed out at .675 on May 22), and he comes with the added pedigree of three prior top-three NL MVP Award finishes. This past year, his case fizzled when he played through a right elbow injury and had a miserable September (.555 OPS). This year, Goldy seems poised for a much more robust finish, and the D-backs could win the NL West.

Video: ARI@CIN: Goldschmidt homers in the 6th and 9th inning

Maybe Goldschmidt will finally get over the MVP Award hump, though teammate David Peralta might sap some of his vote strength.

6. (tied) Max Scherzer, Nationals; Jacob deGrom, Mets; and Aaron Nola, Phillies
Scherzer: 2.19 ERA (2nd), 0.88 WHIP (1st); deGrom: 1.81 ERA (1st), 0.97 WHIP (2nd); Nola: 2.28 ERA (3rd), 1.00 WHIP (3rd)

The stars don't always align for a pitcher to win the MVP Award, but this could be one of those years in the NL.

As you can tell from the length of this list, nobody on the position-player side is up and running away with this thing, and that could continue to be the case down the stretch. Voters are increasingly turning to WAR as a basis for their MVP Award argument, and as of this writing, these three hurlers all outpace every NL position player in bWAR (the same is true of Scherzer and deGrom in fWAR, though Nola is behind some position players -- as well as D-backs lefty Patrick Corbin -- in that FanGraphs calculation).

Video: WSH@CHC: Scherzer K's 11 over 7 shutout innings

Therefore (and without getting too deep into the statistical woods here), it is conceivable.

But unlike when Clayton Kershaw won the NL MVP Award in 2014 or Justin Verlander won the AL MVP Award in 2011, the Cy Young Award winner here is not clear-cut (both of those guys were unanimous Cy Young Award winners in those respective seasons). deGrom is outpacing Scherzer in ERA and adjusted ERA, but he has famously won just seven games. Scherzer could notch 20 wins and 300 strikeouts. Nola probably trails both of those guys in the Cy Young Award discussion, and yet, for those who place importance upon October entry, he might actually be more likely to garner MVP Award votes (the Phils don't have a legit MVP Award candidate on the position-player side).

Video: NYM@NYY: deGrom K's 12 over 6 2/3 stellar frames

So as if the position-player race for the NL MVP Award weren't confusing enough, here's another layer of complexity. Yes, a pitcher could win this MVP Award, but even if you get to the point where you're comfortable with that notion, you've still got to decide which pitcher. So I'd label it doubtful right now.

9. Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
.814 OPS (25th), 118 OPS+ (tied for 22nd), 123 wRC+ (tied for 19th), 5.3 bWAR (tied for 1st), 4.3 fWAR (4th)

Teammates Jesus Aguilar (.950 OPS, 149 OPS+) and Christian Yelich (.886 OPS, 3.6 fWAR) also have a case here. But Aguilar's WAR is dinged by his defensive positioning, and Yelich is an easy-to-underrate player who is good at pretty much everything but not superlative in any one category.

In the increasingly influential community of nerds (and I use the term lovingly), Cain's case seems to have the most traction. You can see here how he fares in the WAR tallies, and he's among the league leaders in average (.301), on-base percentage (.391) and steals (21), in addition to leading in defensive runs saved (17). But Cain's .423 slugging percentage would be the lowest for an MVP Award winner since the 1970s. How much should defensive value, which is so difficult to quantify correctly, matter in the MVP Award vote? Hard to say.

Video: Must C Catch: Cain robs HR to protect 1-0 lead in 7th

10. Eugenio Suarez, Reds
.930 OPS (5th), 147 OPS+ (5th), 145 wRC+ (tied for 5th), 3.8 bWAR (8th), 3.6 fWAR (tied for 9th)

This guy has been the best of the non-contending position players in the Senior Circuit (though that's actually a small pool, given how many NL teams are very much mathematically alive). While voters have finally softened the once-prominent stance that the MVP Award must come from a playoff club, Suarez has not attained the Trout-like transcendence required to overcome his club's well-south-of-.500 standing. Still, he's positioned himself in the conversation for a top-10 finish with a well-rounded campaign, as reflected in his rank in several key categories.

Video: CIN@WSH: Suarez launches a towering solo HR to left

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Cubs' nicknames for Players' Weekend

MLB.com

For the second consecutive year, Major Leaguers will put their personalities and passions on the field when Players' Weekend takes center stage during all games from Friday, Aug. 24, through Sunday, Aug. 26.

Here are the nicknames the Cubs will wear on their backs while sporting colorful, non-traditional uniforms featuring alternate designs inspired by youth-league uniforms:

For the second consecutive year, Major Leaguers will put their personalities and passions on the field when Players' Weekend takes center stage during all games from Friday, Aug. 24, through Sunday, Aug. 26.

Here are the nicknames the Cubs will wear on their backs while sporting colorful, non-traditional uniforms featuring alternate designs inspired by youth-league uniforms:

Video: Get ready, 2018 Players' Weekend is August 24-26

Shop for Players' Weekend gear
2018 Players' Weekend nicknames
Best nickname for every team
All you need to know about Players' Weekend

:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::

Albert Almora Jr.: "TICO"
Almora's mother gave him his nickname.

"It really came in high school, because my dad and I are called the same name," Almora said. "My mom, to tell the difference, would call me 'Tico.' My dad didn't really call me that. When I got to high school, my dad used to help out with the team, so instead of calling me Albert, my dad would call me 'Tico.'"

Almora said he may get a little more creative next year.

"They used to call me the 'Flying Cat' -- it's 'gato volador' in Spanish and it's a song," Almora said. "I used to fly around in the outfield."

Anthony Bass: "FISH"
Javier Baez: "EL MAGO"
Spanish for "The Magician," Baez was given the nickname by fans in Puerto Rico after some impressive, almost magical fielding during the 2016 postseason.

David Bote: "BOAT"
Folks seem to have a tough time pronouncing the rookie's last name and often mispronounce it as "boat." So, he went with that nickname.

"People don't get it right, so it's 'Boat,'" Bote said.

Kris Bryant: "KB"
They are his initials.

Victor Caratini: "VIC"
Tyler Chatwood: "CHATTY"
Jesse Chavez: "DADO"
Chavez says his daughters came up with the nickname, which should be pronounced "Dad-oh." His girls like to add an "O" to everything, so their mother is "Mom-oh." Not sure if they call the team he pitches for the "Cubs-oh."

Steve Cishek: "SPEEDPASS"
When Cishek was in high school in Falmouth, Mass., he worked as a gas station attendant, which used the "Speedpass" device for quick payment. It also provided the right-hander with a nickname.

"I remember I was out there pumping gas and a couple of my buddies in high school drove by and yelled out the window out of nowhere, 'Speedpass,'" Cishek said on Friday. "I'm like, 'Oh, no.' I go back to school the next day and that's the name that stuck. If someone yells 'Speedpass' wherever I'm at, I know it's someone from back home."

When Cubs manager Joe Maddon talks about Cishek, he calls him "Shrek."

"'Shrek' is like my professional baseball nickname," Cishek explained. "That's the first nickname I got from day one when I got drafted. Our pitching coordinator with the Marlins asked me my nickname, and I said 'Speedpass,' and I gave him my college nickname, which is 'Roy,' and then he said, 'Well, Cishek is tough to say, so we'll go with "Shrek."'

"I put [Speedpass] on so my friends where I grew up will know," Cishek said. "Hopefully, they'll appreciate it."

Willson Contreras: "WILLY THE BEAST"
A passionate and aggressive player, Contreras got the nickname in Spring Training.

Yu Darvish: "YU-SAN"
The addition of "san" on a name in Japanese is a sign of respect.

Brian Duensing: "DEUCE"
Duensing was on the Twins in 2008 when manager Ron Gardenhire came down to watch some pitchers.

"He walks in and says, 'Hey, Deuce, how's it going?'" Duensing said. "I look around and realize he's talking to me. I think he thought people were calling me 'Deuce,' instead of 'Duens.' Fast forward to 2009, I made the big league team and I told Matt Guerrier that story and he lost it laughing. He kept telling everybody, and the name stuck. Now everybody calls me 'Deuce.' It's all Gardy's fault."

Carl Edwards Jr.: "STRINGBEAN SLINGER"
Edwards was "Carl's Jr." last year, but this time, he's using a nickname he got in the Minor Leagues.

"My first full year of pro ball, I was called up from Arizona to Spokane," Edwards said. "One of their broadcasters or media guys came in after my second outing and said, 'Hey man, what if we put up a stringbean slinging a baseball,' and that would be my thing. I said, 'I don't know.' He said, 'We'll call you Stringbean Slinger.' So it started in Spokane, Wash."

Video: Edwards Jr. reveals origin of 'Stringbean Slinger'

Cole Hamels: "HOLLYWOOD"
"Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins gave that to me in the Minor Leagues," Hamels said. "Any [nickname] you get in the Minors, it sticks."

Justin Hancock: "HERBIE"
Ian Happ: "HAPPER"
Kyle Hendricks: "HENDO"
Jason Heyward: "J-HEY"
Brandon Kintzler: "SALT"
Kintzler got the nickname in the Minors because of his salty disposition.

"Someone always knew someone who started calling me, 'Salt,'" Kintzler said. "I didn't want to put that name on [my jersey] last year and in Spring Training, they talked me into it. Everywhere I've gone the last three years, my name is Salt. My name isn't Brandon any more, it's always Salt. It's something someone nicknamed me -- it's like an edge to my attitude."

Tommy La Stella: "LA STELLA"
"I forgot," La Stella said about fulfilling the request for a nickname. "I said I'd get back to them. I never did. It's like homework that I didn't do."

Jon Lester: "LEFTHANDER"
That's who he is.

Brandon Morrow: "B MO"
Mike Montgomery: "MONTY"
Jose Quintana: "LELO"
Quintana is using his younger brother Abel's nickname instead of "Q."

"I want to dedicate it to him," Quintana said.

Anthony Rizzo: "TONY"
Randy Rosario: "PELO FINO"
Rosario's nickname means "fine hair." Rosario does have nice hair.

Addison Russell: "ADDY"
Kyle Schwarber: "SCHWARBS"
Drew Smyly: "SMILES"
Pedro Strop: "STROPY"
Justin Wilson: "J WILLY"
Ben Zobrist: "ZORILLA"
Manager Joe Maddon gave Zobrist the nickname when the two were together on the Rays.

"I started calling him that in 2008 when we were both with Tampa Bay and he really came on strong," Maddon said. "It's sort of the antithesis of the man, but, as a player, it fits him perfectly."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

Montgomery to DL; Rosario recalled for 'pen

Lefty out with shoulder inflammation; Rosario recalled for bullpen
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Cubs placed left-hander Mike Montgomery on the 10-day disabled list (retroactive to Tuesday) with left shoulder inflammation and recalled lefty Randy Rosario from Triple-A Iowa on Friday afternoon.

Right-hander Tyler Chatwood will start against the Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday in place of Montgomery.

PITTSBURGH -- The Cubs placed left-hander Mike Montgomery on the 10-day disabled list (retroactive to Tuesday) with left shoulder inflammation and recalled lefty Randy Rosario from Triple-A Iowa on Friday afternoon.

Right-hander Tyler Chatwood will start against the Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday in place of Montgomery.

Montgomery last pitched in a relief appearance against the Nationals last Saturday, when he struck out one and walked one over a hitless inning. He felt something in the game and thought it was just soreness, but he continued to be bothered by the shoulder during his bullpen session Thursday.

"I felt all right the other day, and then I wanted to test it out in the bullpen, and it just kind of didn't feel right," Montgomery said. "It's frustrating, but I think I got to get it right. I've got to get it feeling good. I don't think it's too far off. Just a little discomfort there when I go more game speed."

The 29-year-old is 4-4 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 32 games with the Cubs in 2018. Montgomery moved into the rotation in late May, and allowed 27 runs (25 earned) over 73 innings (3.08 ERA) in 13 starts.

Video: CHC@KC: Montgomery tosses 6-plus shutout innings

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said placing Montgomery on the disabled list was a "precautionary" move to provide more time for the inflammation to subside. Montgomery also indicated he doesn't believe he'll be sidelined for too long.

"I'm pretty optimistic that it's going to be real quick," Montgomery said. "And it will be a good chance for me to kind of get a little breather, kind of build up the strength. Just so I can come back and keep performing at a high level."

Chatwood began the year in the rotation and went 4-5 with a 4.98 ERA in 19 starts. His control proved to be an issue, as he walked 85 while striking out 82 over 94 innings. He's come out of the bullpen for his last three appearances, allowing four earned runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and five walks in 5 2/3 innings. His 90 walks issued leads the Major Leagues.

"Obviously you're excited anytime you get to start," Chatwood said. "Unfortunately, Monty had that, but I'm going to go out there and try to help us win a game. ... I'm excited, I feel good and I'm in a good place."

Rosario, 24, will be available if needed Friday night against the Pirates, Maddon said. The left-hander is 4-0 with seven holds and a 3.00 ERA in 28 appearances with Chicago this season. He struggled his last time out, allowing four earned runs on four hits in one inning against the Padres on Aug. 5.

Video: CIN@CHC: Rosario delivers 2 1/3 in relief, earns win

Darvish on rehab assignment
On Friday afternoon, right-hander Yu Darvish spoke to reporters for the first time since the announcement that he will begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Sunday.

Darvish (right triceps tendinitis) has been sidelined since May 20. He threw about 55 pitches during a three-inning simulated game at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, and told Maddon on Thursday that he felt ready to begin his rehab stint, which will begin with Sunday's start for Class A South Bend.

"I want to come back to the big league level," Darvish said through his interpreter. "And then hopefully be better than my last big league outing. I want to come back stronger than ever."

Darvish has made eight starts with the Cubs, posting a 1-3 record and 4.95 ERA while striking out 49 and walking 21 over 40 innings. He said the main goal of his rehab assignment is to throw pitches without any pain.

"The team's doing really well right now, so hopefully I'll get along with that flow," Darvish said of the impact he can make when he returns. "And then keep the winning streak going."

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Chicago Cubs, Tyler Chatwood, Mike Montgomery, Randy Rosario

Rizzo's staredown inspires Strop to finish save

Pedro Strop was an out away from locking down a slim 1-0 Cubs victory on the road against the Pirates. He had two strikes on David Freese ... and promptly hit him.

With the tying run on base and the winning run at the plate in Elias Diaz, pitching coach Jim Hickey came out of the dugout for a mound visit.

Lester regains form with 6 scoreless, 8 K's

Pittsburgh native Happ homers in 4th for game's only run
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Jon Lester hadn't been quite the same since going into the All-Star break with 12 wins. The Cubs left-hander had gone winless in his last five starts while allowing more than a run per inning.

Lester appeared to return to form against the Pirates on Thursday, as he recorded a season-high-tying eight strikeouts without issuing a walk over six innings in the Cubs' 1-0 win at PNC Park. It was their fifth straight win in one-run games dating back to Aug. 3, moving them to 18-17 in such games this season.

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PITTSBURGH -- Jon Lester hadn't been quite the same since going into the All-Star break with 12 wins. The Cubs left-hander had gone winless in his last five starts while allowing more than a run per inning.

Lester appeared to return to form against the Pirates on Thursday, as he recorded a season-high-tying eight strikeouts without issuing a walk over six innings in the Cubs' 1-0 win at PNC Park. It was their fifth straight win in one-run games dating back to Aug. 3, moving them to 18-17 in such games this season.

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"[Watching] from the side, I know it's Jon Lester. I've watched him a lot," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "But all of a sudden, it was like Jon Lester. He had this way about him today that was not going to be denied. That's what I saw. He was locked in, he'd had enough, and he went back to pitching like Jon's capable of pitching."

Maddon said before the game that he'd met with Lester sometime between his start against the Nationals on Saturday -- when he allowed nine runs (eight earned) in 3 2/3 innings -- and Thursday. Lester said the two "brainstormed" and talked about what was and wasn't working.

"When you struggle, you go back to what has made you successful," Lester said. "And you kind of sometimes, I think, forget about the other things that have made you successful. Still threw my fastball, still threw my cutter tonight. I think just better execution, better angle on both pitches."

Video: CHC@PIT: Lester punches out Bell, the side in the 2nd

Lester showcased his execution early by way of missing bats. After giving up a leadoff single on his second pitch of the game, Lester retired the next six batters he faced and eight of the next nine. He finished the third inning with six strikeouts, marking the first time he'd struck out six or more through the first three innings of a game since Aug. 1, 2017, per Inside Edge.

The Cubs were held scoreless through three frames, but they provided Lester with the run support needed to record the win in the fourth inning. With one out, Pittsburgh native Ian Happ connected on a 2-0 changeup from starter Ivan Nova over the heart of the plate and drove it out to right-center field for his 13th home run of the season.

"Always fun to do at home," Happ said. "Had my high school coach in the third or fourth row. Cool to see his reaction … I see the ball well here. Good hitter's eye. It's a fun ballpark. I enjoy coming back, enjoy playing in front of, well, for me, the home crowd."

Video: CHC@PIT: Happ smokes a solo homer to right-center

Right-handers Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards Jr. allowed one combined hit over two innings of relief. Righty Pedro Strop worked around a two-out hit-by-pitch in the ninth inning to record his 10th save of the season.

Rizzo's staredown inspires Strop

"Our staff has done a great job of keeping us in it; of giving us a chance," Happ said. "We've had a couple comeback wins, but we haven't scored that many runs. And our guys have done a great job making sure that we keep those leads. Strop at the end of the games right now is lights out, so that's what we need."

Video: CHC@PIT: Strop earns save following staredown

The Cubs improved to 20 games over .500 and increased their lead in the National League Central to 3 1/2 games over Milwaukee. The Pirates lost their fourth in a row and dropped to 10 games behind the Cubs and 6 1/2 out in the NL Wild Card race.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Potential tying run stranded: After two quick outs in the fifth inning, Lester gave up back-to-back singles to Josh Harrison and Adeiny Hechavarria to put runners on the corners for Nova's spot in the lineup. Lester fell behind 3-0 in the count, but battled back to strike Nova out on the eighth pitch of the at-bat and end the inning.

It proved to be the only time in the game the Pirates would bat with a runner in scoring position.

Video: CHC@PIT: Lester K's Nova, strands 2 baserunners

"Every time you lose a game, it's tough. But having a game like this, in the situation that we are, we need to win," said Nova, who worked 6 2/3 innings. "We need to get W's, especially against the teams ahead of us. It's a tough one."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Starling Marte notched a one-out single in the sixth inning. Two batters later, he broke for second base on Lester's second pitch to David Freese. After catching it, Willson Contreras popped up and lined an 85.1-mph throw to Baez in an attempt to throw Marte out at second base. Baez corralled the throw and swiped his glove on Marte for the inning-ending caught stealing. More >>

Video: CHC@PIT: Contreras' strong 85.1-mph throw gets Marte

HE SAID IT
"Regardless of what you've done in the past, it's crazy how we operate mentally. The world-class kind of athlete, they want to be that all the time. So when you get away from it, it's disturbing. And then you're always looking for answers. Like I said, I know he'll rest better, and I really believe this is absolutely a game to build off because he executed so well. Everything was there tonight." -- Maddon, on Lester's performance

UP NEXT
Left-hander Cole Hamels will take the mound against the Pirates on Friday at PNC Park (6:05 p.m. CT). Hamels is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in three starts with the Cubs since being acquired from Texas. He faced Pittsburgh in his debut with Chicago, striking out nine while allowing one unearned run over five innings en route to the win. Right-hander Trevor Williams will start for the Pirates.

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Chicago Cubs, Ian Happ, Jon Lester

Baez's tag, Contreras' arm thwart steal attempt

Contreras delivers with his 2nd-fastest pop time of season
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Javier Baez continues to make the improbable seem routine.

With two outs in the sixth inning of the Cubs' 1-0 victory Thursday night, speedy Pirates outfielder Starling Marte took off from first on an 0-1 pitch from Jon Lester. Catcher Willson Contreras caught the ball, popped up and fired an 85.1 mph throw to Baez in an attempt to nab Marte at second base.

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PITTSBURGH -- Javier Baez continues to make the improbable seem routine.

With two outs in the sixth inning of the Cubs' 1-0 victory Thursday night, speedy Pirates outfielder Starling Marte took off from first on an 0-1 pitch from Jon Lester. Catcher Willson Contreras caught the ball, popped up and fired an 85.1 mph throw to Baez in an attempt to nab Marte at second base.

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Falling to one knee, Baez fielded the throw and, in one fluid motion, swiped his glove on Marte for the inning-ending caught stealing.

"If you can break it down and slow it down, it's amazing how he puts his body in position," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He lets the ball come to him, and he positions himself in a manner that's unique. Not everybody positions themself as he does in preparation for the ball. That, I'm certain, junior colleges, colleges are going to try to teach. They're going to get that and break it down, slow it down, and try to teach that, because it's pretty spectacular."

Contreras clocked a pop time of 1.86 seconds, marking his second-fastest pop time on a caught stealing in 2018.

Video: CHC@PIT: Contreras' strong 85.1-mph throw gets Marte

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez

Darvish ready for rehab start; Bryant swinging

Cubs pitcher sidelined since May 20 with triceps injury