PHILADELPHIA -- The Cubs have faced the Mets' powerful duo of Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom and Braves ace Mike Foltynewicz in the past week. On Sunday afternoon, they had to deal with the Phillies' 15-game winner, Aaron Nola.
"You've got to beat good pitching to get to the promised land," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
It helps to have MVP candidate Javier Baez in the lineup. Baez, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rizzo smacked solo home runs off Nola to lift the Cubs to an 8-1 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park and improve to a season-high 26 games over .500.
The Cubs now have a five-game lead over Milwaukee in the National League Central, their largest of the season.
"I feel our guys have always done well against the league's best," Chicago starter Jonathan Lester said. "I think especially a guy like Javy, you put up the league's best against him, he goes to another gear."
Baez's blast was his 30th of the season and raised his NL-leading RBI total to 100. He's the fifth Cubs player to reach 30 homers and 100 RBIs before or in their age-25 season, joining Ernie Banks, Kristopher Bryant, Rizzo and Ron Santo.
"I'm thankful for everything I've done this year," Baez said. "I'm just happy for all the RBIs. It's like Rizzo told me, I'm not surprised about the homers, I'm surprised about the RBIs and it's true. We know what we can do if we do good. It's really impressive that I got 100 RBIs and I feel great about it."
Playing in the 500th game of his young career, Baez connected with one out in the sixth against Nola, who served up three home runs for the second time in his career. The Phillies' right-hander finished with 11 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.
How do you beat good pitching? You need good pitching yourself. Lester held on for his 15th win of the season, striking out seven over six innings. The Cubs have won each of Lester's last four starts, and he's given up four earned runs over 23 2/3 innings in that stretch.
"You watch him and he competes, and when it gets a little tight and you've got a lead, he starts making really good pitches," Maddon said of the left-hander.
The Cubs have won 10 of their last 12 games, and the starting pitchers are 6-1 in that stretch with a 2.29 ERA.
"We've been playing as well as we've played all year over the last two weeks," Maddon said. "Also, the most difficult part of our schedule regarding no time off, really good opponents, good opponents on the road, one night stand in Atlanta -- the guys have been doing wonderfully and it's been impressive."
In their last 18 games, the Cubs have been on a roll, outscoring their opponents, 83-45. They're 13-5 record in that stretch. Murphy has been at the top of the lineup for 11 of those games.
"It seems like everything is going in the right direction for us," Lester said. "Our offense has done a great job of working counts and having long innings and giving us a break on the bench. … That was a big one today against a really good pitcher who has been throwing the ball well for them all year. For us to beat him today, that was big."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Murphy effect: Murphy ended Nola's strikeout streak with one swing. Nola had fanned six in a row before Murphy smacked a solo homer with two outs in the third, connecting on a 1-2 fastball. It was Murphy's third home run since joining the Cubs on Aug. 21 in a trade with the Nationals. Rizzo notched his 23rd of the season leading off the fourth. Nola had given up eight home runs in his 27 previous starts, and this was the first time he's served up more than one in a game this year.
"The biggest thing is we don't let the first couple innings dictate the rest of the game," Lester said. "Nola punched out seven in a row. That can lead to a frustrating dugout and you didn't hear it or see it in the dugout. That's a good sign for our guys. They knew they were confident in themselves to go out and have good at-bats and we were able to square a few balls up and hit them out of the park."
Said Murphy: "I was as surprised as anybody to get Aaron right there as well as he's been throwing this year."
Power rangers: Maddon has been looking for more from Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ, particularly against right-handed pitchers. Schwarber may be getting on track. For the second straight game, he hit a triple, this time driving in Rizzo, who had walked. It was his third triple of the season, a personal best.
The Cubs finished with three triples, including one by Baez in the eighth. It's the first time they've had three triples in a game since April 24, 2002, against the Giants. Happ tripled in the seventh and added a two-run double in a four-run eighth.
Baez is the fourth Cubs middle infielder to reach 30 homers and 100 RBIs, joining Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg. More >>
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Roman Quinn tried to stretch his leadoff double to left field in the first inning, but Schwarber threw him out for his 11th assist, tops among NL left fielders. Quinn's hit got past Schwarber, but he played the carom off the wall perfectly, and third baseman David Bote made the tag.
HE SAID IT
"This will be a fun series. We'll get half of this road trip out of the way. It'll be good to play those guys, and I think we turn around and play them again at home. Any time in September you're playing your division, it's big games." -- Lester, on the upcoming three-game series against the Brewers
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Happ led off the seventh with a ball that hit the top of the outfield padding in left-center. He was credited with a triple, but the umpires reviewed it to see if the ball had gone far enough for a home run. After they checked, the call on the field was confirmed.
In the eighth, Schwarber was called safe after a grounder to third baseman Jose Bautista. The Phillies challenged the ruling, and after a review, the call was overturned.
Cole Hamels will open a three-game series against the Brewers at Miller Park on Monday. Acquired by the Cubs on July 27, the lefty has a 0.69 ERA in his six starts with the Cubs. He's 7-3 with a 3.64 ERA in 14 starts vs. Milwaukee. Zach Davies (2-5, 5.23 ERA) will start for the Brewers, who are hoping to gain ground on the first-place Cubs in the NL Central race. The series opens with a Labor Day matinee, with first pitch scheduled for 1:10 p.m. CT.