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Cubs 5, Cardinals 1: Where have these guys been?

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The offense, at last, broke out, and The Professor was his usual excellent self.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Cubs started out this season on a 13-3 run and many of those games were like the one they played Monday — timely hitting, excellent starting pitching. It’s a mystery why that vanished for what seemed like weeks at a time during this abbreviated season.

Fortunately, everything seemed to return Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field and the Cubs and Kyle Hendricks put together a 5-1 win over the Cardinals, increasing their lead in the NL Central to 2½ games over St. Louis with 18 games remaining. (For the Cubs, that is. The Cardinals have at least 26 games left, and that’s likely going to do them in, for first place, anyway.)

The Cubs put a run across in the first inning, but not as many as they might have. Ian Happ led off with a double that missed the basket by about two feet and Kris Bryant singled him to third. Anthony Rizzo hit into a double play with a run scoring, and you’ll forgive me if I don’t show you video of Rizzo hitting into a DP.

A better rally came in the third. Jason Kipnis singled and Happ walked. After Kris Bryant hit into a force play, Rizzo came up and made another out scoring a run, this time a sacrifice fly [VIDEO].

Another Cubs run came across in the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Cameron Maybin and Jason Kipnis, and I’d show you this video but for some reason it’s not working for embed.

In the fifth, two Cardinals errors helped set up a Cubs rally. Throwing errors by Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong put runners on second and third, and Willson Contreras came through [VIDEO].

Contreras has been one of the Cubs’ hottest hitters; he’s now hitting .440/.517/.600 (11-for-25) in September.

That made it 5-0, and Kyle Hendricks had been cruising, with his usual weak contact and pitching on the edges of the zone. He also got helped out by some slick defense.

First, Javy making this nice catch near the net in the first [VIDEO].

Then in the fourth after a leadoff single by Goldschmidt, the Cubs turned this nifty double play [VIDEO].

The Cardinals finally broke through against Hendricks in the seventh, but Kyle kept up his dominance at Wrigley Field. This outing lowered his home ERA to 2.27 in five starts covering 35⅔ innings. Kyle also broke a franchise record by walking fewer than two (today, none) in his 38th straight start. That broke the record set by Bill Hands from September 11, 1967 through April 13, 1969. Kyle was relieved by Rowan Wick in the ninth and he finished up uneventfully.

I was happy to see Javy go 3-for-4 in this game and hit the ball well in all four at-bats. It would be huge for the Cubs if he could start hitting the way we know he can. Same for Kris Bryant, who had two hits and has raised his BA to .200. Baby steps.

Jose Martinez, on the other hand... he pinch-hit in this game and struck out. That makes him 0-for-14 as a Cub, and I suspect his time on the team is growing short, as Adbert Alzolay and Billy Hamilton will be added to the active roster soon. The acquisition of Martinez was a worthwhile experiment, but it’s just not working.

One more game note: Kyle Schwarber struck out to end the sixth inning, but not before he had this epic 14-pitch at-bat:

The Reds and Brewers both had Monday off, so the Cubs gained half a game on each. Milwaukee now trails by 4½ games and Cincinnati by 5½. The Reds have 19 games remaining and the Brewers have 21 left.

The Reds will be at Wrigley Field for a series that begins Tuesday evening. Alec Mills will start for the Cubs and Tyler Mahle gets the call for the Reds. Game time Tuesday is 7:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on Marquee Sports Network.