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Schwarbs' homer keys Cubs' 5th straight win

MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- The Cubs are playing the right teams at the right time to enable them to pull away in the National League Central division race. A 9-3 victory over the Reds on Wednesday night -- aided by a three-run first inning and five-run fourth -- was their fifth win in a row.

"Collectively, we were all going through a down period [in the first half of the season]," infielder Tommy La Stella said. "The talent has always been there. It's starting to turn for us right now, and turn at the right time."

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CINCINNATI -- The Cubs are playing the right teams at the right time to enable them to pull away in the National League Central division race. A 9-3 victory over the Reds on Wednesday night -- aided by a three-run first inning and five-run fourth -- was their fifth win in a row.

"Collectively, we were all going through a down period [in the first half of the season]," infielder Tommy La Stella said. "The talent has always been there. It's starting to turn for us right now, and turn at the right time."

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With the Brewers' 4-2 loss to the Giants, the Cubs opened a season-high 3 1/2-game lead in the division. In the midst of playing 13 straight games against last-place teams -- the Blue Jays, Reds and Phillies -- Chicago has won seven of the first nine games. For the season series, the Cubs have also won 10 of 15 games vs. the Reds.

"You can struggle in the second half or you can learn from your mistakes and get better," winning pitcher Mike Montgomery said after the Cubs moved 11 games over .500 for the first time this season. "Now it's all about getting into the playoffs. We're completely over last year."

Reds starter Asher Wojciechowski had a wobbly outing from the get-go as he faced eight batters -- and walked three -- in a 35-pitch first inning and allowed three runs. It was 4-0 after three innings when the Cubs pounced on Wojciechowski in the fourth. Following singles by Montgomery and Jon Jay, Kyle Schwarber (aka "Schwarbs" for Players Weekend) slugged a three-run homer. Alex Avila's two-out single prompted the Reds to go to their bullpen.

Video: CHC@CIN: Schwarber, La Stella lead five-run 4th

"I just didn't have command tonight," Wojciechowski said. "It came down to I didn't make pitches. It's extremely frustrating when I've got a job to do and I don't get it done."

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La Stella, who drew a bases-loaded walk for the first run of the game, greeted Alejandro Chacin's Major League debut with a two-run homer to right field to cap the Cubs' five-run fourth.

The padding was plenty for Montgomery, who pitched six scoreless innings and allowed four hits and one walk to go with four strikeouts. After the first inning -- when he faced five batters -- the left-hander never faced more than four batters in the remaining five innings. He retired 10 of the last 11 he faced.

Video: CIN@CHC: Montgomery fans four in scoreless gem

Joey Votto (aka "Tokki 2" for Players Weekend) wrecked the shutout for the Cubs with one out in the ninth inning against Hector Rondon by hitting a solo homer to center field. It was Votto's team-leading 33rd home run. Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler added back-to-back homers with two out against Rondon.

Video: CHC@CIN: Schebler belts a solo homer to right-center

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hey, Heyward: Following La Stella's bases-loaded walk in the first inning, Jason Heyward slashed a rolling RBI single through the left side that scored Ben Zobrist. Normally sure-handed left fielder Adam Duvall bobbled the ball for an error that allowed Anthony Rizzo to come home and make it 3-0. In the third inning, Heyward lined a two-out RBI single to right field that scored Rizzo.

Video: CHC@CIN: Heyward plates Rizzo with a single to right

Turned two: The Reds were threatening Montgomery in the third with runners on first and second with one out and Votto batting. Votto hit a hard grounder to the hole, where shortstop Javier Baez made a slick backhanded sliding stop of the ball before flipping to Zobrist, who turned the inning-ending double play.

Video: CHC@CIN: Cubs turn slick double play to escape jam

"That was a big moment," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

QUOTABLES
"I think the first inning kind of set the tone. It's unusual for him to struggle with command. He was up a lot, missing up in the zone a lot to this lineup and pitching behind. They'll let you get behind. They swing at pitches early in the at-bat, but they have to be good pitches to hit." -- Reds manager Bryan Price, on Wojciechowski

"It helps when you get a three-run lead before you even go out there."-- Montgomery

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Cubs are 25-12 since the All-Star break, when they were 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the division standings.

UNDER REVIEW
A crew-chief review occurred following Schwarber's homer as the ball bounced back into play after going just beyond the fence. The replay official confirmed the call and Schwarber had his 21st homer.

WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs: Right-hander Jake Arrieta (13-8, 3.63 ERA) will bid for his eighth consecutive quality start in Thursday's series finale at 6:10 p.m. CT. The Cubs are 5-0 in Arrieta's last five starts at Great American Ball Park

Reds: To try and salvage a game from the series, the Reds will turn to rookie pitcher Sal Romano (3-5, 5.32) in Thursday's finale at 7:10 p.m. ET. Romano allowed one run and five hits over seven innings for a 5-3 win at Atlanta on Friday. This will be his 10th big league start and his first vs. the Cubs.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Andrew Call is a contributor to MLB.com based in Cincinnati and covered the Cubs on Wednesday.