CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs haven’t played meaningful baseball in September for a while. But now that they are, confidence isn’t at a shortage.
Anthony Rizzo had three hits and scored three runs, Jorge Soler hit a pinch-hit, 3-run homer and the Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 9-5 on Monday night.
The Cubs inched closer to a NL playoff berth as their magic number to clinch fell to four. Chicago, which last made the playoffs in 2008, entered Monday two games behind Pittsburgh for the first wild card berth and has now won six of seven, playing well when it matters.
"Sometimes, a lot of teams get good in April," said infielder Starlin Castro, who had two RBI. "But when you get good during September, it’s because a team is good."
Soler’s first career pinch-hit home run broke the game open in the seventh inning after the Cubs snapped a 4-4 tie in the fifth with a pair of runs. Castro, who had two hits and two RBIs for Chicago, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly before Miguel Montero singled in Rizzo, who doubled.
Rizzo reached in all five of his at-bats after collecting two walks to go along with his three hits and extended his hitting streak to seven games.
"He knows what’s at stake, he loves to play (and) he’s ready every day," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I can’t say enough good things about him."
Milwaukee’s Adam Lind tied the game at 4 with a two-run homer in the fifth inning off Cubs starter Jason Hammel (9-6), who allowed three earned runs over his five innings. He scattered five hits while striking out six and walking one.
Maddon said his pitching rotation for the playoffs after ace Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester is "fluid", meaning that pitchers like Hammel, who has struggled with command and consistency at times, will need to prove themselves to remain under postseason consideration.
"Obviously, I’d like to see better results right now," Hammel said. "But I know what I can do. It’s disappointing that it doesn’t look that great right now. But sometimes, you have to compete with what you’ve got."
After falling behind 2-0, the Cubs responded with three runs in the second inning. Dexter Fowler followed up Castro’s RBI double with a two-run double that ricocheted off the second base bag. Fowler was initially called out at second, which would have nullified the go-ahead run from scoring. But the ruling was reversed following a review, allowing the Cubs lead to stand.
Addison Russell’s RBI walk in the third inning extended Chicago’s lead to two runs. Milwaukee starter Wily Peralta (5-10) allowed four walks and gave six runs over 4 2-3 innings on eight hits. He also struck out two.
The Brewers, who got a home run from Khris Davis in the eighth, strung three singles together and took advantage of a Hammel throwing error in the first to build an early 2-0 lead. Hammel threw wide of first base while attempting to pick off Logan Schafer, which scored Scooter Gennett. Schafer, who also singled, scored on an RBI single by Domingo Santana.
But for Milwaukee, which has lost eight straight games to Chicago and eight of nine overall, running into a red-hot Cubs team, has made winning tough.
"It takes all facets to beat the teams we’re playing right now – the Cubs, the Cardinals," manager Craig Counsell said. "You got to be perfect to win those games."
Brewers veteran Ryan Braun (back) missed his third straight game and may miss extended time with the injury. Braun said Monday he plans to undergo back surgery in the offseason. Righty Jimmy Nelson will miss the remainder of the season after being hit in the head by a line drive. Nelson did not sustain a concussion, but a neurologist said Nelson suffered head trauma. Davis returned to the lineup on Monday after missing one game with a sprained right ankle.
Brewers youngster Tyler Cravy (0-7, 6.42 ERA) will make his sixth start of the season, pitching in Nelson’s place. Cravy suffered his seventh loss of the year in a relief role on Sept. 19 against Cincinnati.
Cubs righty Jake Arrieta (19-6, 1.96 ERA) will make his second attempt at becoming the major league’s first 20-game winner and the Cubs’ first pitcher to reach the mark since 2001 after taking a no-decision in his last outing on Sept. 16.