No cooling Cubs, who roll to another series win

May 13th, 2019

CHICAGO -- That bat that has been swinging for the past few weeks has been a talking point around the Cubs lately. He has become amused by the growing attention surrounding the story, but Bryant gets it. The switch coincided with a power resurgence for the slugger, so it must be the lumber.

On Sunday night, Bryant was able to get a pink version of his Axe handle bat for Mother's Day and he stayed hot in the batter's box, launching a two-run homer that helped Chicago pull off a 4-1 victory over the Brewers at Wrigley Field. The blast was Bryant's fifth in his past eight games and it helped the Cubs pick up their 12th win in 14 games, as well as an eighth consecutive series win.

"I don't know. I feel comfortable with the bat," Bryant said with a smile. "I'm going to keep going with it. But, yeah, I just had a laugh that it was talked about so much. But it is, it's a good bat."

Bryant's seventh-inning blast -- a two-run shot off reliever -- was part of a three-hit performance that extended his on-base streak to a career-best 22 games. He switched to the Axe bat on April 26 in Arizona and has launched seven home runs in 15 games since that game.

Bryant was hardly alone in guiding the National League Central-leading Cubs to the series victory over the rival Brewers, though. Here is a look at two more players who played a key role in Sunday's win.

Lester's strong start

One night after the Cubs edged out the Brewers in a 15-inning marathon, manager Joe Maddon was asked if he was comfortable with the state of his bullpen.

"No, we're not comfortable," Maddon said with a laugh before Sunday's game.

Chicago did not make any roster moves to add reinforcements, putting the onus on veteran lefty to work as deep as possible. Lester answered the call with a 116-pitch effort that carried into the seventh inning. Even after a 39-pitch fourth, in which he escaped a bases-loaded jam, the southpaw plowed forward and did his part to keep Maddon from needing to summon more relievers than necessary.

"I tried to save them as best I could," Lester said. "We all watched the game the day before. You know what you need to do. I was just trying to get as many quick outs as I could early on."

Lester fed Milwaukee a heavy dose of four-seamers (43) and cutters (39), generating nine swinging strikes, but mostly utilizing his defense and avoiding the barrel (30 foul balls). When the smoke cleared on his outing, Lester had given up one unearned run over 6 2/3 innings, ending with six strikeouts and one walk.

In four starts since coming off the injured list, Lester has allowed one earned run with 25 strikeouts and two walks in 24 2/3 innings.

"He's always tough every time we face him," Brewers outfielder said. "He wasn't his normal sharp self, but he battled and that's all you can ask."

Lester exited in the seventh with two outs and two runners aboard, but righty got out of the jam with a backdoor sinker that froze for strike three.

"Oh my God. He doesn't even know how he threw that pitch," Aguilar said. "The ball was moving a lot -- moving a lot. Sinking a lot. I have to give the credit to him, because he executed really good tonight."

Baez on both sides

Maddon has noticed Cubs star doing some self-correcting in the batter's box this season. Whenever Baez starts to get out of his approach, Maddon sees the shortstop getting back to an opposite-field mindset with his swing mechanics.

"That's what I'm seeing," Maddon said. "Recently, he's come up, pulled off a couple balls. I see his head in the dugout. Too big. Chase. And then all of a sudden, he realizes what he's doing wrong. I don't say anything to him. And all of a sudden, you see boom, boom. Right-center. Right-center. His head's back on the ball. He's making better choices."

That happened again in the fifth inning, when Bryant got things started with a two-out single to left. Baez followed by sending a pitch from Brewers starter into the right-center-field gap for a double, and Bryant made it count by hustling home from first to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead.

Per Statcast, Baez entered the night batting .658 with a 1.447 OPS on balls hit to the opposite field this season.

"I feel like he's been playing well, but I don't really feel like he's been hot," Lester said. "I don't know if that's the right way to describe it, because obviously his numbers speak for themselves. But I feel like he's just had a lot of big hits for us, but he hasn't really got like kind of Javy hot."

That comment made Bryant laugh.

"I don't know what Jon's watching," he quipped. "Gosh, I watch Javy play and he's on base all the time."

In the sixth inning, Baez preserved Chicago's slim lead with his defense.

With one out and runners on the corners -- at first and Aguilar at third -- Lester got to chop a pitch to the left side. Baez charged forward, gloved the ball and threw to catcher with no hesitation. Aguilar slid into the plate, but Contreras applied the tag and held on for a crucial out. Lester then escaped with a flyout off the bat of Ben Gamel.

"He changes the game on both sides of the ball," Lester said. "The play he made tonight with Willy at home, I don't know if many shortstops make that play."