CHICAGO – Jon Lester sees the Chicago Cubs delivering enough big hits and sparkling plays in the field.
More than anything, he sees his team piling up victories. And to him, it’s starting to feel like the 2016 championship season all over again.
Lester and two relievers combined on a one-hitter, and the Cubs took advantage of a first-inning slip by center fielder Starling Marte in a 2-0 victory Saturday over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago’s 11th win in 13 games.
“I think it took everybody a little bit last year to recover and get back to normal,” Lester said. “When you come off that high of Game 7, you’re looking for that high, you’re trying to get up for every game, and it’s just not there. I think it took us a while for that. This year, I feel like everybody just came in with a different mentality.”
Lester (7-2) allowed a two-out triple in the third to Austin Meadows, then retired Marte on a groundout. The left-hander struck out five and walked two in seven innings, improving to 5-1 in his past six starts.
Justin Wilson worked a perfect eighth, Steve Cishek retired all three batters in the ninth for his second save and the Cubs remained a half-game behind NL Central-leading Milwaukee.
Nick Kingham (2-3) allowed both runs and four hits in 6⅓ innings. Pittsburgh lost for the sixth time in seven games and has dropped seven straight series. The Pirates are 5-16 following a 26-17 start.
Kris Bryant led off for the second straight day and was hit by Kingham’s second pitch. The game turned on Kingham’s next offering, when Marte settled under Jason Heyward’s fly but fell as the ball bounced to the wall. That put runners on second and third, and when Ben Zobrist followed with an RBI groundout and Anthony Rizzo a sacrifice fly, the Cubs had a two-run lead after just six pitches by Kingham.
Manager Clint Hurdle defended Marte’s decision to call off left fielder Austin Meadows.
“You’re a center fielder,” Hurdle said. “You’ve won a Gold Glove. I think you call the ball if you think you can get to the ball.”
Bryant was 0-for-2 with an intentional walk after getting three hits Friday in his debut as a leadoff hitter.
Pittsburgh was without second baseman and leadoff hitter Josh Harrison, absent because of a personal matter, according to Hurdle.
Brewers 12, Phillies 3
In Philadelphia, Cho Ji-man hit a go-ahead, pinch-hit grand slam in the sixth inning, and Jesus Aguilar and Jonathan Villar also went deep in Milwaukee’s victory over the Phillies.
Aguilar also doubled and drove in three runs and Christian Yelich had three hits for the Brewers, who won their second straight over Philadelphia while outscoring the Phillies 24-7 to keep hold of first place in the NL Central.
Choi’s homer made a winner out of Brent Suter (6-4), who allowed three runs on four hits in five innings with five strikeouts and one walk.
Diamondbacks 12, Rockies 7
In Denver, Paul Goldschmidt had his second straight two-homer game and drove in four runs, and Arizona took advantage of a double error by Brian Shaw to rally past the Rockies.
Shaw (2-5) entered the game to protect a 7-6 lead and allowed six runs — only one of them earned — while getting just two outs before leaving to a chorus of boos and insults from the crowd of 43,000-plus.
Nationals 7, Giants 5
In Washington, Bryce Harper hit his National League-leading 19th homer, and the Nationals beat San Francisco.
Harper’s blast to right-center came off reliever Ty Blach in the fourth inning.
Adam Eaton scored two runs in his return from the disabled list for Washington.
Cardinals 6, Reds 4
In Cincinnati, Yadier Molina doubled with the bases loaded, and Michael Wacha pitched two-run ball into the sixth inning, leading St. Louis to its 13th straight win over the Reds.
The Cardinals also homered three times as they extended their second-longest streak of domination in a rivalry that goes back to the 1800s. They won 18 times in a row in 1930-31.
St. Louis has also won 11 straight in Cincinnati, its longest such streak since it first visited the city in 1892.
Braves 5, Dodgers 3
In Los Angeles, Freddie Freeman had three hits, Tyler Flowers drove in three runs and Atlanta beat the Dodgers.
Flowers had a two-run double in the third and an RBI single in the fifth that helped put the Braves ahead 4-1 and chase starter Alex Wood (1-5). Charlie Culberson added three hits for Atlanta against his former team, and the Braves racked up 14 hits total.
Padres 5, Marlins 4
In Miami, Travis Jankowski hit a go-ahead bases-loaded single in the eighth inning to lift San Diego over the Marlins.
Jankowski hit a line drive with two outs off reliever Drew Rucinski (1-1) that scored Hunter Renfroe, who had reached on a two-out double and advanced following walks to Raffy Lopez and Matt Szczur.
Yankees 4, Mets 3
In New York, Aaron Judge hit a tiebreaking drive in the eighth inning and the Yankees won a game of home run derby, beating the Mets for their sixth straight victory in the Subway Series.
Rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar also homered at Citi Field, ensuring the Empire State Building would sparkle in Yankees team colors for 10 minutes after the win. The Yanks have won four in a row overall and nine of 10.
The Mets built a 3-0 lead on first-inning homers by Todd Frazier and Asdrubal Cabrera, but still lost their eighth in a row.
The Mets have dropped 10 straight at Citi Field, their worst skid at home since losing a team-record 15 at Shea Stadium in 2002.
Red Sox 4, White Sox 2
In Boston, J.D. Martinez hit a tiebreaking two-run homer, David Price pitched six solid innings to win his fifth straight decision and the Red Sox rebounded from a series-opening loss to beat Chicago.
Jackie Bradley Jr. added a solo shot for Boston, which avoided tying its season-high three-game losing streak.
Astros 4, Rangers 3
In Arlington, Texas, George Springer hit a tiebreaking single in the seventh inning, and Houston overcame a wild start from Charlie Morton.
Morton tied an American League record with four hit batters and had a career-high six walks as the Astros allowed 10 walks, a season high. But the Rangers tied a club record with 17 runners left on base in a nine-inning game, most in the majors without extra innings this season.
Royals 2, Athletics 0
In Oakland, Danny Duffy pitched seven innings of three-hit ball, and Kansas City beat the A’s to snap a six-game skid.
Duffy (3-6) struck out a season-high 10 and walked three.
Angels 2, Twins 1
In Minneapolis, Albert Pujols hit his 623rd career homer and tied Stan Musial for seventh on the career RBI list with 1,951, helping Los Angeles beat the Twins after a four-hour rain delay.
Pujols’ solo home run in the sixth proved to be the difference as Tyler Skaggs (5-4) allowed one run in seven innings and matched a season best with eight strikeouts.
Tigers 4, Indians 2 (12)
In Detroit, Jeimer Candelario’s two-run homer in the 12th inning gave the Tigers the victory over Cleveland.
Miguel Cabrera singled off Cody Allen (2-3) with two outs, and Candelario drove a 2-0 pitch deep into the right-field stands for the first game-ending homer of his career.
Blue Jays 4, Orioles 3 (10)
In Toronto, Luke Maile drove in the winning run with a bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning, and the Blue Jays beat Baltimore.
Maile walked on four pitches from Baltimore’s Mychal Givens (0-2) to score Justin Smoak as the Blue Jays improved to 7-1 in extra innings.
Rays 7, Mariners 3
In St. Petersburg, Florida, Blake Snell overcame occasional wildness to go six effective innings, and the Rays stopped an eight-game losing streak by beating Felix Hernandez and Seattle.
Snell (8-3), who was born in Seattle, gave up two runs and seven hits. The left-hander walked two, recorded one strikeout, hit a batter and had two wild pitches.