CHICAGO -- The snow days gave the Cubs more time to work on their hitting approach in the batting cages, and that seemed to pay off on Thursday. Javier Baez provided the spark and Jason Heyward the power with a two-run homer to back Jonathan Lester and lead the Cubs
CHICAGO -- The snow days gave the Cubs more time to work on their hitting approach in the batting cages, and that seemed to pay off on Thursday. Javier Baez provided the spark and Jason Heyward the power with a two-run homer to back Jonathan Lester and lead the Cubs to an 8-5 victory at Wrigley Field, snapping the Cardinals' winning streak at five.
All nine starters recorded at least one hit for the Cubs, with Kristopher Bryant and Kyle Schwarber driving in two runs each. The Cubs were playing just their second game this week after weather-related postponements. Thursday's game was a makeup of Wednesday's postponed contest, and the 47-degree game-time temperature and sunshine were welcome after snow at Wrigley Field. Manager Joe Maddon called it "balmy."
"It takes time to gel with that and it takes time for us to gel," Heyward said. "Moving pieces, things like that early in the season, and an inconsistent playing schedule, that will happen."
The Cubs' players kept hitting coach Chili Davis busy, even if there weren't any games.
"Good approach, good at-bats," Maddon said of the Cubs' 14-hit attack, which involved using the entire field. "It is so fun to watch. Keep your launch angles, keep your exit velocities, give me a good at-bat. Those were really good at-bats. Staying inside the ball, using the whole field -- I promise you if they stay on that path, balls will still go out of the ballpark at the pace they're capable of. With that, you'll see better situational hitting, you'll see higher batting averages, on-base percentages. I loved our approach today."
The weird week may have contributed to the sloppy play to begin the game. Lester hit Harrison Bader with one out in the first and Bader then stole second and reached third on a throwing error by Willson Contreras before scoring on a wild pitch.
"When you don't play consistently, the feel, the nuance, that escapes you," Maddon said. "Throwing and fielding in general was off just a little bit."
The Cardinals totaled two hits over six innings off Lester, who struck out seven and didn't allow a hit until the fifth. He even contributed to the Cubs' offense with a single in the fifth after Heyward's homer.
What helped Lester settle in?
"A four-run [second] inning," Lester said. "When you score four, it kind of opened it up and it makes things easier."
"He's a competitor," Maddon said of Lester. "He sizes up each situation. He wanted to go back out [in the seventh]. I said, 'Jon, this is not the time to go 110 [pitches] today.' If it was a closer game, I would've put him back out there."
Baez, moved up in the lineup for the first time this season, had two hits, including a triple, to increase his total of extra-base hits this season to 11.
"It seemed to work," Schwarber said of Baez batting second. "The guy's an exciting ballplayer. I feel we're always talking about Javy Baez. I'm not going to get tired of it. He's a heck of a ballplayer and a lot of instincts and he's a leader and he's fun to watch."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Baez provides spark: Maddon tweaked the lineup, moving Baez up to No. 2 in hopes he could provide some "energy." Baez did that in his first at-bat with a triple to the gap in right-center with one out. He then scored on Bryant's single that third baseman Jedd Gyorko deflected.
"That's good to know," Baez said when told of Maddon's plan. "I was trying to stay focused on the same approach, same swings. I didn't get excited, but that's one of my goals is to end up there in the lineup. I feel great, I'm still seeing the ball really good. I chased a few pitches today, but I took good at-bats." More >
Cubs bat around: The Cubs sent nine batters to the plate in the second. Heyward singled to lead off and moved up on Lester's sacrifice. Albert Almora Jr., who got a rare start against a right-hander, Luke Weaver, then hit an RBI single and reached third on Baez's single. Almora tallied on Bryant's sacrifice fly and Anthony Rizzo and Schwarber each added RBI singles for a 6-1 lead.
"We're just focusing on the work and the process besides results," Schwarber said. "That's more the thing. We've been doing some pretty good work in the cage. It's pretty much what we did in spring and we're continuing to work well."
Lester, who was making his 100th career start for the Cubs, improved to 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA (12 earned runs over 57 1/3 innings) in nine starts against the Cardinals since the start of the 2016 season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Heyward's home run registered a 110.7 mph exit velocity, his highest on a homer since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015. The ball sailed 423 feet, which is tied for his second-longest home run. Plus, Heyward made a three-star catch on Matt Carpenter's deep flyout in the fourth, covering 116 feet in 6.3 seconds on a ball with a 55-percent catch probability.
HE SAID IT
"It's good, quality at-bats. We had good at-bats all day. That's nice to see. What people forget -- and I go back to this -- is that guys are still young and maturing at the big league level. In some other organizations, these guys would not be up here or they'd be knocking on the door to get here. [The young Cubs players] have been here three years, and some longer. Every day's a learning process, every day is figuring out something about themselves. We've had some good offensive games for the most part. If we can keep people off the basepaths, we'll be going in the right direction." -- Lester
Kyle Hendricks will open the Cubs' three-game series in Denver against Jon Gray and the Rockies on Friday at 7:40 p.m. CT. Hendricks posted a quality start in his last outing against the Pirates but took the loss, serving up a pair of home runs for the second straight outing. The problem was fastball command, and the right-hander said that would be his focus between starts.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.