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Helped by D, Lester in charge as Cubs blank LA

Club makes several fine plays, Schwarber homers to back veteran lefty
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Jon Lester admitted he didn't have his best stuff Wednesday. It didn't matter. He let his teammates pick him up with some stellar defense.

Lester threw seven strong innings and Kyle Schwarber gave him a boost with a solo home run, his second in as many games, to lift the Cubs to a 4-0 victory over the Dodgers at Wrigley Field and take the series.

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CHICAGO -- Jon Lester admitted he didn't have his best stuff Wednesday. It didn't matter. He let his teammates pick him up with some stellar defense.

Lester threw seven strong innings and Kyle Schwarber gave him a boost with a solo home run, his second in as many games, to lift the Cubs to a 4-0 victory over the Dodgers at Wrigley Field and take the series.

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"In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball. The baserunning, the defense, the throws, all that kind of stuff. The real baseball purist loves that style of game."

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo also drove in runs for the Cubs, who have won 17 of their last 25 games. Schwarber ignored the wind and connected against Ross Stripling with two outs in the fourth inning to hand the Dodgers' starter his first loss in his last seven starts.

Video: LAD@CHC: Bryant knocks in Baez with a single to left

Lester improved to 7-1 with a 1.58 ERA in his last 10 starts, giving up 11 earned runs over 62 2/3 innings in that stretch.

"It wasn't exactly ideal on my end with pitching," Lester said. "I really didn't have much today and kind of grinded through that one. The defense, like I've said before, they've been picking us up all year. It's kind of like, 'Here, I don't have anything, just hit it and hopefully those guys run it down and catch it.' They did today."

Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward threw out a runner at home and Javier Baez made an impressive unassisted double play to highlight some of the Cubs' stellar defense.

"That's what we do, man," Baez said. "I'm not surprised. We try to do our best for our pitchers. Like I say all the time, great defense wins ballgames. We have great athletes out there."

After the sixth inning, Lester's pitch count was at 109. Maddon had asked pitching coach Jim Hickey if he thought they could get another inning out of the lefty because the Cubs' bullpen had been realigned. Neither Maddon nor Hickey had to ask Lester; he volunteered for one more inning and finished with a season-high 119 pitches.

"After the sixth inning, he said, 'I need to go out there for one more.' I said, 'You're absolutely right,'" Maddon said.

"At that point, what's 15, 20 more pitches?" Lester said.

Video: Cubs on strong defense, pitching in 4-0 win

Closer Brandon Morrow was placed on the disabled list before Wednesday's game, which left the Cubs' bullpen with five pitchers who began the season at Triple-A Iowa (Randy Rosario, Luke Farrell, Anthony Bass, Justin Hancock and Rob Zastryzny).

As long as Lester's teammates are backing him, he'll be fine.

"Now I'm relying a lot more on my defense," Lester said of how he's pitching this year compared to two years ago. "In '16, I had a lot better stuff, consistently better stuff. I've had starts this year where I've felt really good physically, been able to repeat and do the things I've done in the past. But obviously, I've thrown a lot of baseballs. There's some wear and tear there. I'm not going to be the same pitcher I was even last year or two years ago.

"We're making adjustments. We're figuring out new ways to get guys out."

This was the lefty's first meeting with the Dodgers since Game 2 of the 2017 National League Championship Series. He did not get a decision in that game, and the Cubs lost the series in five games.

"Offensively, I thought it was one of our best offensive approaches in a game and Lester might have had a rabbit's foot in his pocket because he didn't have the command he normally has and we squared a lot of balls up," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Credit to them for making some very good plays and to Jon for hanging in there for seven innings."

These two teams won't have to wait until October to play again. They begin a four-game series on Monday night in Los Angeles.

"It's just an experienced series," Heyward said. "Good baseball, good teams, teams that have been to the NLCS, teams that have been to the postseason and that's that."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Home run derby: With two outs in the Cubs' fourth, Schwarber launched the first pitch from Stripling, a changeup, 429 feet to left-center field for his 14th homer, matching Baez for the team lead.

Video: LAD@CHC: Schwarber belts solo homer to deep center

"[First-pitch] changeup. Pretty dumb pitch, really," Stripling said. "Just trying to get ahead and threw too fat of a pitch, and he clobbered it. I mean, that was into the wind and 10 rows up in center field. Not a smart pitch."

El Mago: Baez doubled in the second and fifth and also tripled in the seventh and scored on pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella's single. It was Baez's first career game with three extra-base hits. Baez also contributed on defense. Enrique Hernandez was at second with nobody out in the Dodgers' eighth when Justin Turner lined out to Baez, who made the catch and dove head-first to beat Hernandez back to the bag.

Video: LAD@CHC: Baez makes catch, dives at bag for smooth DP

"He just plays like a free safety," Maddon said. "He throws his whole body out there all the time and gets back up. He's got that flare about him -- people want to see Javy play. When his name is announced, the place erupts all the time. He's always in the middle of something good."

Video: LAD@CHC: Baez on health, 3-hit game vs. the Dodgers

SOUND SMART
The Cubs improved to 15-1 in their last 23 games since May 27 when they score at least two runs in a game.

Lester has pitched at least six innings and given up one or zero runs in 44 starts since the start of 2015, tied for the most such outings in the Majors with Max Scherzer and Jake Arrieta.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Heyward and Willson Contreras combined for a stellar double play in the Dodgers' third. Chris Taylor hit a one-out double off Lester but didn't try to score on Hernandez's single to left, deciding not to challenge Schwarber's arm. Turner then flied out to right and Taylor tagged up and tried to score, but Heyward fired a perfect strike home to Contreras to get the runner. Contreras needed minor treatment from athletic trainer PJ Mainville after the collision for a bloody nose, then fired the ball over the roof to celebrate the play.

Video: Must C Cannon: Heyward cuts down Taylor at the plate

"That's a grand slam right there, that's a beautiful thing," Maddon said of the impact the play had.

HE SAID IT
"To be able to get two out of three after losing the first game [Tuesday] in the manner that we did, I give our guys a lot of credit." -- Maddon of the three-game series, which began with the Dodgers rallying in the ninth inning for a win

UP NEXT
Kyle Hendricks gets the nod as the Cubs open a four-game series in Cincinnati on Thursday. Hendricks ended a personal three-game losing streak with a win in his last start. The goal now may be to get through the first inning without giving up a home run. He has served up 14 homers this season, seven in the first inning. He did not get a decision vs. the Reds on May 19, giving up three earned runs over five innings. Cincinnati will counter with Matt Harvey, who makes the first pitch at 6:10 p.m. CT at Great American Ball Park.

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

Chicago Cubs, Jon Lester