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|6:40 PM PT7:40 PM MT8:40 PM CT9:40 PM ET21:40 ET1:40 GMT9:40 6:40 PM MST8:40 PM EST9:10 PM VEN5:40 UAE (+1)8:40 PM CT, September 19, 2018
Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona Attendance: 25,715
Cubs continue push toward title vs. struggling D-backs
PHOENIX -- The Chicago Cubs' uninterrupted 30-day march through the stretch drive will finally end with a day away from the park Thursday.
"Thank God we're young," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
"I think a bunch of old players about 20 years ago would have started hitting each other."
The Cubs have simply started hitting.
Top National League MVP candidate Javier Baez homered in each of the first two games of a series at Arizona, and Kris Bryant and Daniel Murphy hit one apiece as the Cubs ended a semi-drought in which they had scored 15 runs in the previous seven games.
The Cubs scored 14 runs while winning the first two games of the series and had 12 hits in a 9-1 victory over Arizona on Tuesday. The teams will conclude the three-game series when left-hander Cole Hamels (4-0) is to oppose Arizona left-hander Robbie Ray (5-2) on Wednesday.
The Diamondbacks have had their own trials of late, playing 13 straight games against division leaders. They are 3-10 in those and have dropped to third in the NL West, six games behind the Dodgers for the division lead and six behind St. Louis for the second wild card.
The Cubs have not had a day off since Aug. 20, after rain forced a makeup games against Atlanta on Aug 30 and Washington on Thursday, and with one game left are right where they started, with a 3 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee in the NL Central.
"I know they are tired, but I don't overly sense fatigue," Cubs president Theo Epstein said.
"We have a mentally strong, mentally tough group. It's not an excuse. It could contribute to certain things. You don't get a do-over. It is what it is. We are going to play a quarter of our season with one off day. That's just the reality, and it will be something really nice to overcome. That's the way I look at it."
Baez was serenaded by chants of "MVP" from a decidedly pro-Cubs crowd in the first two games of the series. The Cubs spend spring training in suburban Mesa.
In spring, Baez set goals of 30 homers, 100 RBIs and a Gold Glove. He has 33 homers and leads the NL with 107 RBIs, but he has not spent enough time at one infield spot for Gold Glove consideration.
"I help my team a lot, that's what counts," Baez said.
Bryant's homer in Monday's 5-1 victory was his first since July 20, although he missed about five weeks with a shoulder injury.
"It felt good since the first game I've been back," said Bryant, who returned Sept. 1. "Just nice, easy swings. I don't like to go up there and swing max effort. Just being myself. I've seen good progress since I've off the DL. Hopefully we continue to do that and get hot at the right time."
The Cubs got some sobering news Tuesday, however, when closer Brandon Morrow was shut down for the season because of a bone bruise in his right forearm. With Pedro Strop out with a hamstring injury, the Cubs will maintain their closer-by-committee approach for the foreseeable future, Maddon said.
While the Cubs have maintained their division lead, Arizona has fallen into third place in the NL West and also has lost ground in the wild card race. The Diamondbacks have lost 14 of 18 in a spiral that began when they lost the final three contests of a four-game series to the Dodgers' in their final at-bat from Aug. 31-Sept. 2.
"I'm not saying that we've been knocked out, but we're getting jabbed pretty good," Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. "I feel like at times we withstood some of those tests, but as of late we have not. I know these guys are engaged and will fight."
Hamels has been lights out since being acquired from Texas at the trade deadline. He has given up as many as three runs only once in his nine starts for the Cubs and two runs only twice. He has made six quality starts and is 2 1/3 innings short of a quality start in all nine, having pitched five innings in two starts and 5 2/3 innings in another.
Hamels is 4-2 with a 3.47 ERA in nine career appearances against the Diamondbacks, the last two coming with Philadelphia in 2013. Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock are the only remaining Arizona starters from that team.
All of his decisions against Arizona have come in his six starts at Chase Field. Hamels is 3-0 with a 1.82 in his five road starts with the Cubs.
Ray has a 2.95 ERA in his last 10 starts, when he is 2-0 with eight no-decisions. He gave up more than two earned runs in only two of those games but often was lifted because of high pitch counts. He has thrown 55 innings in that stretch, with 67 strikeouts and 31 walks.
Ray, a first-time All-Star in 2017, made his longest and arguably most effective start of this season at Wrigley Field on July 25. He gave up one run in seven innings but took another no-decision when the Cubs scored one run in the eighth for a 2-1 victory.
He is 0-1 with a 3.50 ERA in three career starts versus Chicago.
Updated September 19, 2018
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