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2017 Cubs victories revisited, July 23: Cubs 5, Cardinals 3

The long ball helped the Cubs to victory.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs improved to 51-46 with this win and were in a first-place tie with the Brewers in the N.L. Central. The win made their post-All-Star record 8-1.

Well, hello, first place.

It’s been a while. How have you been? We’ve missed you.

The Cubs spotted the Cardinals another lead, but home runs by Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras, as well as a solid first Wrigley Field outing from Jose Quintana, gave them a 5-3 victory that put them in first place in the N.L. Central by one percentage point over the Brewers.

This one didn’t start out well. Javier Baez booted a ball hit to him on the third pitch of the game to let Matt Carpenter reach base.

But Baez’ teammates immediately picked him up with great defense. Jason Heyward made this fine leaping catch [VIDEO] on a fly ball by Tommy Pham.

One out later, Jedd Gyorko hit a ball into the left-center field gap that looked like it would score Carpenter. But Schwarber made a perfect throw to Addison Russell, whose relay to Contreras nailed Carpenter at the plate [VIDEO].

Just outstanding defense played there, saving a run. Carpenter was apparently injured on the play, as he departed an inning later with what was reported as “right quad tightness.”

The Cardinals posted a pair in the second on a two-run homer by Randal Grichuk, his third in as many days. Grichuk just absolutely kills the Cubs. This year alone: .400/.455/.967 (12-for-30) with five home runs, and in his career, 10 homers in just 137 at-bats vs. Cubs pitching.

The Cubs got one of those runs back in the third on doubles by Russell and Heyward, and a bloopy single by Kris Bryant scored Heyward to tie the game at 2. But the Cardinals regained the lead on a solo homer by Paul DeJong in the fourth. DeJong hasn’t gotten much publicity for the start to his career, but he now has 12 home runs in just 46 career games. Glad the Cubs don’t have to see him again until September.

Schwarber got that run back in a big, big way [VIDEO].

That baseball was last seen leaving Earth’s orbit. Look at the exit velocity and height!

Quintana settled down and retired seven of the last eight Cardinals he faced. It wasn’t as good as his Cubs debut last weekend in Baltimore, but he still had a solid six-inning, seven-strikeout start and was greeted warmly by Wrigley fans.

Bryant led off the sixth with a double to the wall in right. Think about this: When KB hurt his finger Wednesday in Atlanta, it was thought at first he might not play at all in this series. Instead, he started two of the three games, went 4-for-8 and scored what turned out to be the winning run in both of them.

One out after Bryant’s double, Contreras hit the game-winner [VIDEO] off Michael Wacha:

That ball didn’t look like it would make it to the bleachers at first, but it had just enough to make the first row in left-center:

Then it was up to the bullpen. Hector Rondon got himself into a bit of trouble in the seventh. Bryant couldn’t quite get to Grichuk’s little roller in time to throw him out, and then Hector walked pinch-hitter Greg Garcia. But he got out of the inning with a ground ball to KB.

Carl Edwards Jr. was next, in the eighth, and he walked Pham to lead off the frame. He retired the next three hitters, but not before running the count full on Yadier Molina with two out and having Molina foul off three pitches before getting him to pop out to Javy, who was in perfect position:

Wade Davis (20th save) gave up a leadoff single to DeJong, but then calmly (when is Davis ever not calm?) set down the next three hitters to win the series (and the Cubs are now 8-4 against the Cardinals this year) and put the Cubs back in first place for the first time since June 6. The Cubs are at a season-high (finally!) five games over .500 and though the Brewers are also five games over, the Cubs lead by one percentage point (.526 to .525). More importantly, the Cubs are two games up on the Brewers in the loss column.

It rained at Wrigley Field right around the time the gates opened at 5 p.m., but only lightly, even while it was pouring in some of the west and northwest suburbs. It cleared in plenty of time for the game to begin on time, and most of the capacity house hung around until Davis got pinch-hitter Carson Kelly for the final out. The Cubs are now 8-1 since the All-Star break and in that time have wiped out a 5½-game deficit. Here’s one of the biggest reasons for that:

This was one of the biggest reasons for the Cubs’ 103-win regular season in 2016: outstanding starting pitching. If Cubs starters can continue to go about their business like this, or even close to this, for the rest of the season, this team should win the N.L. Central handily. The team as a whole has played outstanding baseball since the break, so maybe the thought that they needed that four days to recharge was correct.

They’ll have a quick turnaround to Monday’s afternoon contest against the White Sox at Wrigley, the beginning of that annual four-game, two-ballpark series. Kyle Hendricks will return from the disabled list to start for the Cubs, and Miguel Gonzalez goes for the Sox.