CINCINNATI (AP) — The wins are adding up, the lead over the rest of the division is growing. And the defending World Series champions are feeling a little stronger every day.
Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run homer in the ballpark near his home, Tommy La Stella added a two-run shot while subbing for Kris Bryant, and the Chicago Cubs kept their second-half surge going with a 9-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night.
The Cubs opened the season still celebrating their long-awaited championship and floundered for most of the first half, with injuries playing a role. They’re much healthier now and starting to get their groove back.
Their eighth victory in 10 games moved them 11 games over .500 for the first time this season. They’ve also opened their biggest lead in the NL Central, 3 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee.
Chicago trailed the Brewers by 5 1/2 games at the All-Star break.
“The first half of the year, maybe we had some of that residual effect,” left-hander Mike Montgomery said. “Now it’s about getting to the playoffs. I think we’re completely over last year. Now we’re in a good place. We’re having fun.”
Montgomery (4-6) allowed four hits in six shutout innings, filling in for Jon Lester in the rotation. Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler homered in the ninth for the Reds.
Chicago got a little bit of everything — solid pitching, another big offensive showing, and some spectacular defense — while putting it away early.
“We played more of a formulaic kind of game,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Cubs didn’t need a homer during their 13-9 victory in the series opener on Tuesday. Schwarber provided an opposite-field shot in the fourth inning off Asher Wojciechowski (3-3), his ninth since he returned from a stint in the minors to get his swing straightened out.
“That first half is a complete wash for me,” said Schwarber, who grew up in nearby Middletown and attended Reds games as a youth. “I’ve felt a lot better at the plate recently, hitting the ball hard the last couple of days. Got to take those.”
Bryant, the National League’s MVP, sat out a day after getting hit on the side of the left hand by a pitch. He was much better and isn’t expected to miss much time. La Stella took his place at third base and had a two-run homer.
Anthony Rizzo was back at his usual spot — first base instead of third, where he spent an uneventful inning on Tuesday night. He doubled and scored twice as the Cubs quickly got ahead 9-0.
Rizzo played the ninth inning at third base on Tuesday night, becoming only the Cubs’ third left-hander to play the hot corner. He’d like to play other positions, including the outfield. He’d also like to pitch, but he knows that won’t happen.
“I think it would have to be the perfect storm,” Rizzo said pregame . “It would have to be a playoff game, we’re out of pitchers and I’m the absolute last resort in the 27th inning. That’s the only way I could get it.”
SWEET PLAY BY THE SHORTSTOP
Javier Baez went toward the hole at short to get Votto’s grounder in the third inning, sliding on his knees. He did a 180-degree spin and, still on his knees, threw to second to start a double play.
“Unbelievable,” Montgomery said. “That’s such a boost.”
REDS CHANGE BULLPEN
Cincinnati overhauled its overworked bullpen, calling up RHP Luke Farrell and RHP Alejandro Chacin from Triple-A Louisville. OF Phillip Ervin was optioned to Louisville, and RHP Blake Wood was designated for assignment. Wood gave up five runs on Tuesday night. Chacin gave up the homer by La Stella, the first batter he faced in the majors.
Cubs: Lester threw in the outfield pregame and felt good. Maddon said he will throw in the bullpen on Friday and if that goes well, he’ll throw to some Cubs hitters and then could be activated. He’s been on the DL since Aug. 18 with tightness in his back.
Reds: RHP Homer Bailey took batting practice without a problem a day after he lasted only three innings because of irritation behind his pitching shoulder.
Cubs: Jake Arrieta (13-8) has made seven straight quality starts, allowing two or fewer earned runs each game. He’s gone 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA during that stretch. He allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings on July 2 at Great American Ball Park during a 6-2 win.
Reds: Sal Romano (3-5) makes his eighth start since joining the rotation after the All-Star break. He’s never faced the Cubs.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball