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Complacency? MLB-best Cubs plan to ‘step up’ in September

Carl Edwards Jr. (left) earned his first career save, and Addison Russell (right) drove in the tying and go-ahead runs with a two-out single in the seventh Thursday night for the Cubs.

Somebody asked Cubs manager Joe Maddon Thursday about guarding against the risk of complacency this final month of the season with the biggest Sept. 1 division lead by anybody in baseball in eight years, the best record in baseball by a week of games, and a record sitting at more games over .500 than any Cubs team since World War II.

Complacency? What does it matter?

With all due respect to John Lackey and Jon Lester, not even that beer-and-chicken crew from Boston in 2011 could blow a lead this big.

These guys even took batting practice before Thursday’s series opener against the Giants.

Batting practice.

Anybody around here remember what that is?

And then the boys allegedly at risk of complacency batted around against ex-teammate Jeff Samardzija in the first inning, got 15 consecutive outs from a short-handed bullpen to finish the game and beat a Giants team they might have to face in October 5-4 to open the new month.

“It’s September baseball now, and we have to step up our game a little bit,” said shortstop Addison Russell, whose two-out single in the seventh with the bases loaded drove in the tying and go-ahead runs – his 87th and 88th RBIs of the year.

“I’m not trying to put pressure on anyone,” Russell said, “but we definitely need to keep it going. We don’t need to do anything different. We just need to go about our business the same way.

“But everyone knows this is September baseball, and we have to buckle down a little bit.”

So much for complacency.

The Giants certainly seem in no danger of complacency, as they cling to a 1½-game lead over the Cardinals for the top wild-card spot in the league, with the Mets, Pirates and Marlins all lurking within striking distance. They fell to 2 games behind the idle Dodgers in the NL West race.

They also remember coming to Wrigley Field for a late-season four-game series last year – with a half-game lead over the Cubs for the final NL playoff spot – then getting swept and never sniffing playoff position the rest of the season.

“At that point in time it’s not like it was the worst thing in the world,” Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said of the feeling as they left town after that series.

But it definitely is a point of reference as the winners of three of the last six World Series open their September stretch drive against the favorites to win it this year.

“Right now every series seems pretty pivotal,” Belt said. “It could be season-changing for us in the sense that if you go in and beat a good team like that, then you have a lot more confidence coming out of that series than you did going in. Stuff like that can change a season in a heartbeat.”

Maybe that’s part of what was at play when the Giants jumped on auditioning starter Montgomery for a leadoff double by Denard Span and two-out, two-run homer by Hunter Pence in the first.

But then leadoff man Dexter Fowler fought back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk on Samardzija’s 13th pitch of the game – and by the time the inning was over, the Cubs had three runs and Samardzija had thrown 47 pitches.

By the fifth, both bullpens were in the game.

“When your leadoff hitter is doing that, obviously everybody else sees that,” Maddon said. “So he sets the tone for the whole thing.”

The Giants had a 4-3 lead as the pens took over. But Rob Zastryzny pitched another scoreless two innings – six up, six down. Just-activated Joe Smith followed with the same.

And rookie Carl Edwards Jr., who got caught off guard by closer Aroldis Chapman’s mandated day off, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth – starting with a strikeout of Pence – to earn his first career save.

“I’m not going to lie,” Edwards said. “I was nervous. My main goal was to get first-pitch strikes.”

Leverage situations are nothing new for Edwards, who has impressed with increasing responsibility as the season has progressed – including a one-out, bases-loaded, ninth-inning jam Sunday in Los Angeles facing the heart of the Dodgers order.

He got a strikeout and what should have been a game-ending grounder if not for a gaffe in the field behind him, then struck out the final batter.

“For me it’s not pressure,” he said. “It’s more like just having confidence in myself, because I know what I can do. And just by Joe having that confidence in my, it makes playing this game a little bit easier.”