CHICAGO (AP) – Kris Bryant hit his 36th homer and made three solid plays at third base, helping Jason Hammel and the Chicago Cubs top the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 on Wednesday night for a three-game series sweep.
Addison Russell had two RBIs and an outstanding sliding catch as Chicago equaled the best August in franchise history with a 22-6 record, also accomplished in 1932. It was the Cubs’ first time with 22 wins in a month since it went 22-10 in September 1945.
Heading into the final stretch of the season, the Cubs (85-47) are rapidly closing in on their first division title since 2008. They begin September with the majors’ best record at a season-high 38 games over .500 and a whopping 15-game lead over second-place St. Louis in the NL Central.
Pittsburgh (67-64) closed out a 4-3 trip that began with a sweep in Milwaukee. It trails the Cardinals by 2 1/2 games for the second NL wild card.
Hammel pitched six innings of one-run ball in his first start since he was pulled in the third inning of a 3-2 loss at the Dodgers on Saturday, prompting the frustrated right-hander to meet with Joe Maddon to discuss what he felt was a quick hook by the manager.
No problems at all this time around. Hammel (14-7) allowed three hits and struck out six after dropping his previous two starts.
Jordy Mercer had two hits and two RBIs for Pittsburgh, which dropped to 3-12 against Chicago this year. Josh Harrison had two hits and drove in a run.
Andrew McCutchen’s bases-loaded walk trimmed Chicago’s lead to 5-2 with two outs in the seventh. Gregory Polanco then hit a flare down the third-base line that looked like trouble for the Cubs, but Russell sprinted over from shortstop and made a terrific grab near the home bullpen.
Pitching for the third straight day, Aroldis Chapman worked a rocky ninth inning for his 32nd save in 35 chances. He threw three wild pitches and yielded Francisco Cervelli’s two-out RBI single before fanning Mercer with two on for the final out.
Bryant went 2 for 4 and reached base three times while extending his hitting streak to 13 games. The second-year slugger is tied with Colorado’s Nolan Arenado for the NL lead in homers and tops the majors with 111 runs scored.
A brisk wind blowing in from left field was no match for Bryant, who drove an 0-1 pitch from Ryan Vogelsong into the bleachers in left in the first. It was Bryant’s 10th homer in August.
Bryant made a diving grab to rob Sean Rodriguez of an RBI single in the second. He went behind the bag to take a hit away from Harrison in the third and reached into the stands to retire Josh Bell on a foul popup in the fourth.
Vogelsong (3-4) was charged with three runs and six hits in five-plus innings.
The Pirates traded LHP Kyle Lobstein to the Baltimore Orioles for LHP Zach Phillips. The 29-year-old Phillips was 9-3 with one save and a 4.45 ERA in 49 appearances for Triple-A Norfolk this season. He will be assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis.
Lobstein was designated for assignment by the Pirates on Tuesday. He was cut again by the Orioles later in the day when they claimed outfielder Drew Stubbs off waivers from Texas.
Cubs: RHP Joe Smith (left hamstring strain) and OF Chris Coghlan (right rib contusion) likely will be activated from the DL when major league rosters expand on Thursday.
Pirates: Following a day off, the Pirates begin a 10-game homestand with a weekend series against the Brewers. RHP Jameson Taillon (3-3, 3.39 ERA) takes on Milwaukee RHP Junior Guerra (7-3, 2.93 ERA) in the opener on Friday night.
Cubs: LHP Mike Montgomery (1-1, 3.50 ERA) gets the ball when Chicago hosts San Francisco in the opener of a four-game set on Thursday night. RHP Jeff Samardzija (11-9, 4.50 ERA), who played for the Cubs for seven years, pitches for the Giants.
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