Cubs stop Brewers to increase NL Central lead

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[July 31, 2017]  MILWAUKEE -- The way things are going for the Chicago Cubs, an injury to a key player provided an opportunity for a rookie to step up and become a hero for a day.

With Anthony Rizzo sidelined due to back stiffness, fill-in Victor Caratini hit a go-ahead home run in the top of the seventh inning to lift the Chicago Cubs to a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday afternoon.

"It is a good feeling, man," Caratini said through translator Henry Blanco. "It is a huge feeling. Not only was it my first career homer, but it helped the team win. I feel amazing right now."

By taking the rubber game of a crucial three-game series between the top two teams in the National League Central, the Cubs increased their lead to 2 1/2 games over the second-place Brewers.

Milwaukee won the series opener 2-1 on Friday night to pull to within one-half game of first place. Chicago answered with a 2-1 win in 11 innings Saturday.

The Cubs trailed the Brewers by 5 1/2 games at the All-Star break, but they are 13-3 since. Milwaukee is 5-11 during that same stretch, allowing Chicago to make up eight games in the standings.

"We needed to do something like that obviously," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Playing a really good team here in their home ballpark. They came to play, we pitched really well against them."

Caratini fell behind 0-2 before fouling off a pair of pitches and taking a ball before drilling a fastball from Zach Davies out to dead center field for his first major league home run.

Kris Bryant added a solo shot off reliever Jacob Barnes in the eighth for his 20th homer.

John Lackey (8-9) limited the Brewers to just two runs on five hits over six innings to move to 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break.

Wade Davis pitched a scoreless ninth inning to earn his 22nd save of the season.

The Cubs broke through against Davies with four consecutive two-out hits in the sixth inning. Jon Jay singled to center, moved to third on a double by Bryant and scored on an infield single by Willson Contreras.

Addison Russell followed with a single to center to make it 2-0.

Milwaukee quickly answered in the bottom of the inning as Domingo Santana hit a two-run homer that hit off the top of the right field wall and bounced over.

"Johnny was really good," Maddon said of Lackey. "That was like a couple-years-ago Johnny. The fastball was that good, the slider was that good, fly ball to right hits the top of the wall, probably would have hit for him anyway under those circumstances, but I thought he threw the ball extremely well today."

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Cubs pitcher John Lackey (41) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Davies (12-5) was hit for his first loss since June 20, allowing three runs on seven hits with six strikeouts over seven innings.

Milwaukee scored just five runs in the series and is 0 for its last 31 with runners in scoring position.

"We've scored a lot of runs through 105, 110 games into the season," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "We've been a very good offensive team. I'm confident we'll score runs again and put up better numbers."

The 2 1/2-game deficit is the largest the Brewers have faced since April 12, when they trailed by three games.

"There are still a lot of games to be played," Davies said. "I don't think anybody in this clubhouse is too worried just this one series. Yeah, it would have been nice to switch-up the standings again, but there's still 55 games or so left to play and we're going to go out and compete in every one of them."

NOTES: Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo was out of the lineup Sunday due to back stiffness. Backup C Victor Caratini filled in at first base. Manager Joe Maddon hopes to have Rizzo back in the lineup by Wednesday. ... The Brewers optioned RHP Junior Guerra for assignment and selected the contract of LHP Wei-Chung Wang from Triple-A Colorado Springs. Guerra started Opening Day for the Brewers but battled injuries and command issues to post a 4.96 ERA in 13 starts. He walked four of the 14 batters he faced Saturday and was pulled after three scoreless innings. ... Wang was 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA in 39 relief appearances for the Sky Sox. The left-hander was a Rule 5 pick from Pittsburgh in 2014 and spent that season in the big leagues, posting a 10.90 ERA in 14 appearances.

[ 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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