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With bats scuffling, Heyward hits 'big homer'

Cubs RF eclipses '16 total with tiebreaking blast in 11th
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MILWAUKEE -- On Friday night, Jason Heyward made the defensive play of the game when he robbed Ryan Braun of a possible home run with a leaping catch at the wall. On Saturday, it was Heyward's bat that shined for the Cubs.

Heyward smacked a tiebreaking homer with one out in the 11th inning off the Brewers' Jared Hughes to lift the Cubs to a 2-1 victory. It was his eighth homer, topping his 2016 total by one.

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MILWAUKEE -- On Friday night, Jason Heyward made the defensive play of the game when he robbed Ryan Braun of a possible home run with a leaping catch at the wall. On Saturday, it was Heyward's bat that shined for the Cubs.

Heyward smacked a tiebreaking homer with one out in the 11th inning off the Brewers' Jared Hughes to lift the Cubs to a 2-1 victory. It was his eighth homer, topping his 2016 total by one.

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"It's definitely a big homer to give us a lead and help us win the game," Heyward said. "It's good to be on the field so things like that can happen. Ups and downs are going to happen. It [stinks] going on the [disabled list] a couple times. For me to be out, [Kyle Hendricks] to be missing time, [Ben Zobrist] to be missing time, it's just good to be on the field and be back in there, and that's a step in the right direction."

Video: CHC@MIL: Heyward crushes go-ahead solo homer in 11th

However, the Cubs' offense wasn't exactly clicking as the Brewers pitchers combined to strike out 17. That's the second time in five games that the Cubs have fanned that many times, also doing so Tuesday against the White Sox.

"We needed that [home run]," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We were not piecing anything together. Struck out 17 times twice in a week -- we've got to check with Elias [Sports Bureau] on that. That's probably the old Leland Zephyrs [who did that last]. We've got to do a much better job. I am disappointed in the lack of contact, the lack of adjustments. We have to do better or we're not going anywhere offensively."

Since the All-Star break, the offense appeared to be trending in a good way. The team is 12-3 in the second half and has erased the Brewers' 5 1/2-game lead in the National League Central.

"We were making adjustments coming out of the break and now we're not," Maddon said. "I think a lot of times young hitters are confused. It's not just about getting hits, it's about not making an out and keeping the conga line moving. You've got to have that thought before you go in there."

Video: Hughes, Coomer call Heyward's go-ahead homer in 11th

Both games felt more like a September pennant race than a late July contest because of the buzz at Miller Park created by an overload of Cubs fans in the sellout crowd of 44,709. As far as Maddon is concerned, July ended at the All-Star break.

"It's 'Jaugust,'" Maddon said. "It's already there, it's already here. I love it. I absolutely love it, I think our players do. The fans were absolutely energized tonight."

Hendricks could feel it.

"I wasn't really expecting it to feel like this, but it's good for us," he said. "[The Brewers] are playing good baseball, really good baseball, making good pitches, playing good defense and putting toghether good [at-bats]. It's a good test for us."

If the Cubs are going to get to the postseason, they need to make some changes.

"We have to be disciplined at the plate and not help pitchers out so much," Maddon said. "We've got to force them to get us out in the strike zone more. We're not forcing them into the zone. We're permitting them to go outside the zone to get us out."

Heyward knows what's at stake.

"It's hard to say you want to win again, to win a World Series, but you are trying to win it again," Heyward said. "Other teams get better, other teams prepare for you and other teams adjust to you. You've got to respect the game in that sense. We're doing the best we can every day to find ways to win."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Chicago Cubs, Jason Heyward