CHICAGO (AP) — No matter how easy they made it look a year ago, Anthony Rizzo insisted the Chicago Cubs in no way expected to breeze through another season.
If this is a turning point, well, there still is plenty of room for improvement.
Kris Bryant hit two homers and drove in four runs, Rizzo went deep and the Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 on Friday.
“We didn’t think we were just going to roll out there and win,” Rizzo said. “This league’s too good. Teams are too good. We know that everyone in the league is just getting better.”
The Cubs won 103 games last season and brought home their first World Series championship since 1908. But they’ve hovered around .500 all season and haven’t put together back-to-back wins since they took three in a row June 18-20.
Rizzo chased Trevor Williams with a two-run drive in the fourth that made it 3-0.
Bryant hit a solo shot against Jhan Marinez in the sixth that cleared the left-field bleachers and added a two-run drive in the eighth off Antonio Bastardo. He also had an RBI triple and finished with four hits, helping Chicago start the weekend series on a winning note after dropping six of nine.
Manager Joe Maddon held a team meeting on Thursday, only to see the Cubs get pounded by Milwaukee.
“Sometimes, it takes 24 hours for things to stick,” he joked.
Both teams committed three errors and wasted some big scoring opportunities in the early going. Chicago was 2 of 13 with runners in scoring position, while the Pirates were 1 for 11.
The Cubs stranded seven through the first three innings before grabbing a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
Ben Zobrist singled with two outs and Bryant ripped a triple past third baseman Josh Harrison. Rizzo then drove a 2-2 pitch to a party deck in right, giving him 20 homers before the All-Star break for the third time in his career.
That was it for Williams (3-4), who threw 98 pitches and gave up six hits.
“It was weird,” he said. “The first few innings were weird for both sides. Kind of anything that can happen on a baseball field happened. We were waiting for the streaker to run on the field and kind of make it all full circle.”
Bryant made it 4-0 in the sixth with a drive that sailed just past the lower corner of the video board and the outstretched arm of a fan in the back row of the left-field bleachers. His shot in the eighth gave him three multi-homer games this season and 10 in his career.
Bryant needed a double to complete the cycle. But he’ll take two long balls over that “any day.”
“I could have just missed third (on the second homer),” a smiling Bryant said.
Chicago’s Eddie Butler left after hitting Harrison with a pitch leading off the fifth. He allowed four hits and walked three.
Carl Edwards Jr. (3-1) threw 1 2/3 innings. Pedro Strop gave up an RBI single to Josh Bell in the seventh. But Koji Uehara retired the side in the eighth, and Wade Davis worked the ninth.
The Cubs optioned LHP Jack Leathersich to Triple-A Iowa on Friday and recalled RHP Dylan Floro from the minor league club. Leathersich came on in relief of Mike Montgomery in Thursday’s blowout loss to Milwaukee and walked four while giving up two runs in two-thirds of an inning — his lone major league appearance this season. This is the fifth stint with the Cubs this season for Floro, who had an 8.53 ERA in two relief appearances.
The Cubs also signed first-round draft pick Alex Lange. The right-hander was taken No. 30 overall.
Pittsburgh recalled RHP A.J. Schugel from Triple-A Indianapolis and optioned C Elias Diaz to the club.
Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) threw 35 pitches in a bullpen session on Friday. Depending on how he feels on Saturday, the Cubs will decide when he goes on a minor league rehab assignment.
Cubs RHP Jake Arrieta (8-6, 4.33 ERA) looks to build on his strongest start of the season, while the Pirates go with RHP Ivan Nova (8-6, 3.24) as Chicago and Pittsburgh continue their weekend series. Arrieta tossed one-hit ball over seven scoreless innings in a win at Cincinnati on Sunday.
(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)