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Cubs cruise behind Lester's bounce, Baez's pounce

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MILWAUKEE -- All the Cubs needed was a bounce pass from Jon Lester and a little magic by Javier Baez to get back on track.

After getting shut out in back-to-back games and struggling to deliver clutch hits, the Cubs collected 13 hits, including a two-run homer by Jason Heyward, and took advantage of Brewers miscues to post an 8-0 victory Thursday night over their National League Central rivals.

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MILWAUKEE -- All the Cubs needed was a bounce pass from Jon Lester and a little magic by Javier Baez to get back on track.

After getting shut out in back-to-back games and struggling to deliver clutch hits, the Cubs collected 13 hits, including a two-run homer by Jason Heyward, and took advantage of Brewers miscues to post an 8-0 victory Thursday night over their National League Central rivals.

View Full Game Coverage

"We need all the wins we can get for sure," Baez said. "It doesn't matter how."

Video: CHC@MIL: Heyward launches two-run blast

Maybe the Cubs just needed to sleep in their own beds, even if it was for one night. They've traveled from Arizona to Florida, then were scheduled to play two in Cincinnati but rain postponed Tuesday's game. That gave the Cubs a chance to get settled in Chicago on Wednesday and Lester time to do some homework.

Lester, who hasn't faced the Brewers since 2016, struck out six and scattered three hits over six innings for his first win of the year. He's ahead of last season's pace, when he didn't get his first "W" until his sixth start on May 2.

"He had a much better finish on his pitches," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The velocity numbers are about the same. You saw a lot of calls on pitches down that were called strikes that their hitters didn't like because the ball was carrying at the end."

Video: CHC@MIL: Lester, Maddon on scoreless outing in win

Lester said he noticed the awkward swings and misses. His final strikeout victim in the sixth was Milwaukee's Travis Shaw, who didn't agree with a called third strike and was ejected.

"It was a generous strike zone tonight," Shaw said, "but at the same time, Lester just keeps throwing it there and he's going to get some of those calls. He got the majority of them tonight, and he pitched well. Down in the zone. Lived off both corners. It's a tough night when he's hitting his spots like that."

Video: CHC@MIL: Shaw tossed after arguing close pitch

The Cubs -- finally -- provided some offense, which helped even more.

"You score three in the second and it makes things a little easier," Lester said. "Our offense did a great job of keeping me off the mound and scoring more runs. That's huge."

Video: CHC@MIL: Baez lines a two-run single up the middle

Lester did his part to keep the Brewers off the bases, and threw a bounce pass to get Ryan Braun when he tried to steal third in the first.

Give Baez credit for providing the spark in the second inning. He hit a two-run single, then took advantage of two errors to scamper home from first.

Baez blazes around bases on Crew's miscues

"When you make mistakes on defense and the other team takes advantage, it normally does hit you in the solar plexus a bit," Maddon said. "Javy's had that kind of experience on the bases. He's always heads up. If you watch him, he'll look behind as he's running to see what's going on. Going back in the day, you'd see [Willie] Mays do that a lot. [Baez] has got extraordinary instincts on the bases."

Video: CHC@MIL: Baez scores from first on wild play

Before the game, Maddon shrugged off any worries about the Cubs.

"I knew one thing for certain is that sometime this year, we'd lose three out of five games," he said. "When it happens like this, if a guy goes 1-for-10 [to open the season], it stands out further. There's nothing you can do to combat it. We have to get out on a regular basis and play."

Ben Zobrist, who has been one of the few bright spots on the offense, was just glad he plays baseball and not football.

"I think [there's been some angst] because we had a few days off and there was nothing happening," Zobrist said of overreaction to the Cubs' start. "I can't imagine what football players deal with when they're [off] for six days."

Video: CHC@MIL: Maddon on Lester's outing, win over Brewers

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Credit him with an assist: Lester got to test his "Pippen-to-Jordan" pass in the first. This spring, Lester and coach Brian Butterfield worked on a bounce pass to help Lester get baserunners out. With two outs in the Brewers' first, Braun walked and stole second quickly and without a throw before the lefty had delivered a pitch to Shaw. Braun then tried to steal third, but this time, Lester bounced the ball to third baseman Kris Bryant, and Braun was tagged out. More >>

"They're an athletic team and I think they led the league last year in stolen bases," Lester said. "You know they're going to bring that to the table. You don't allow baserunners and it's OK."

Baez said something to Braun after he was tagged.

"I told him, 'Only once, not twice,'" Baez said.

Video: Must C Curious: Braun duels Lester on the basepaths

Skunky Brew: Two of the Brewers' errors came on the same sloppy play as the Cubs took a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Baez was at first base after hitting a two-run single when Lester smacked a comebacker that glanced off Suter's glove and under Perez's glove for one error. While Baez cruised into third base, center fielder Lorenzo Cain bobbled the baseball for a second error that allowed Baez to score.

"Right before I stepped on third base, I turned and [Cain] bobbled the ball so I kept going," Baez said. "They let me run the bases how I want to. I obviously have fun out there. If you pay attention to where you need to be and wherever the sign's coming from, you know everything. At that moment, I was reacting to the play and hustling down the line."

Video: CHC@MIL: Counsell on Knebel's injury, 8-0 loss

 QUOTABLE
"It was really good, real fresh, crispy, we didn't miss our pitches. [Brent Suter] has been tough on us but we did a nice job when he put a ball where we liked it, it was hit, it was hit firmly, it wasn't taken. We really completed the game plan." -- Maddon, on the Cubs' approach at the plate against the Brewers starter

"We could easily be 1-6 right now. The fact we're 4-3 could be a good sign, because I don't think we've played very well at all, all around. Hitting-wise, we haven't been great. We've been great late in games, but for consistency of nine innings, we've only put it together one game out of seven. We're still 4-3. We've got a lot of work to do." -- Shaw, on the Brewers

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Bryant collected his 500th career hit when he singled with two outs in the fourth, and he did get the ball as a souvenir. In the eighth, he added hit No. 501 with an RBI single. Bryant is the quickest player to start his Major League career with the Cubs and reach the 500-hit mark (463 games) since Starlin Castro did so in 421 games on Sept. 7, 2012.

Video: CHC@MIL: Bryant singles for 500th career hit

KNEBEL GOES DOWN
A bad night for the Brewers got worse in the ninth inning when All-Star closer Corey Knebel collapsed on the mound with a left hamstring injury. The Brewers will place Knebel on the 10-day disabled list on Friday, when he is scheduled to undergo an MRI to reveal the severity of the injury suffered as he was merely logging an inning of work in a lopsided loss. More >>

WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs: Kyle Hendricks will make his second start of the season on Friday. The right-hander gave up one run on four hits and three walks over six innings in his opener against the Marlins, striking out five. He's 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA in eight career starts at Miller Park. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CT, when right-hander Brandon Woodruff joins Milwaukee's starting rotation. It marks the first time the Brewers have required a fifth starter this season.

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

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

Javier Baez, Jon Lester