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Cubs escalate quickly on winning homestand, finish off Giants 5-1

Jason Heyward

Kyle Schwarber is still struggling at the plate and could get much of the weekend off against the Dodgers with left-handed pitchers scheduled to face the Cubs.

The Cubs are still looking for a little more from the pitching staff; shortstop Addison Russell is down to .214 and got a day off from hitting; and the Cubs put men in scoring position only three times all day Thursday.

But after riding three solo homers to a 5-1 victory over the Giants to win that four-game series and close a 7-2 homestand Thursday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon smiled and offered a simple message:

“Stay classy, Chicago.”

Then he cleaned up, threw some Just For Men into his white locks and beard, changed into the closest thing he could find to a retro-‘70s suit and headed for the bus with other Ron Burgundys, Champ Kinds and Brick Tamlands from the Cubs’ clubhouse.

Unlike much of the first six weeks of the season, it was much easier for Chicago to stay classy about the Cubs as they headed into the sunset for a six-game trip to the west coast – fresh from their first winning homestand of the season, riding a three-game winning streak and getting back to their high-water mark for the year of four games over .500.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re definitely getting better,” Maddon said.

During a homestand in which game-time temperatures ranged from 87 degrees to 46 and rain fell or threatened through most of it, the Cubs hit 20 home runs in nine games – including one each from Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist off ex-Cub Jeff Samardzija on Thursday.

The starting pitching also began to stabilize – the rotation going 7-1 with a 3.27 ERA over the nine games (9-4, 3.02, over the last 14).

“I could have been a little better today,” said Eddie Butler (2-0), who was lifted after five innings (one run) with the middle of the Giants order due up in a one-run game. “I just failed a couple times to keep the ball in the zone. I really need to attack the guys even more.”

Left-hander Mike Montgomery, the Cubs’ next option for a fifth starter if Butler falters, earned a rare four-inning save with a one-hit, scoreless relief effort.

“I keep talking about trending in the right direction,” Maddon said. “I’m seeing that.”

“We’ve just got it going now,” said Javy Baez, who started for Russell at short. “Obviously, we had a slow start, but we kept trying and everything’s playing out and we’re getting everything together.”

Especially at home – where the Cubs were just 7-9 until sweeping the Reds to open the homestand (after going 57-24 at home last year).

By the time they boarded their bus after the game, they were tied again for the National League Central lead, pending the Brewers’ and Cardinals’ night games.

“We’ve got one of the better home-field advantages in sports, with the atmosphere, the fans, everything,” said Heyward, who has hit in all five games – including two homers – since returning from the disabled list Sunday (jammed finger).

“We never take that for granted,” he said.

Said Maddon: “I like what’s going on.”

Even if it’s not everything he expects yet.

Schwarber, the early-season leadoff hitter who was bumped to second and has sat against lefties recently, struck out four times Thursday. He’s hitting .181 with a team-leading 55 strikeouts in 160 at-bats.

“When you strike out four times your confidence is going to take a hit,” Maddon said. “So we’ll just continue to talk to him. Watching form the side there’s not a whole lot different than when he’s been really good. We’ll just continue to work with him. I have all the faith and confidence in the world in this young man.”

Asked if Schwarber could sit this weekend with the Dodgers starting tough lefties in Alex Wood Friday and Clayton Kershaw Sunday, Maddon said he hadn’t worked on those lineups yet.

<em>Schwarber strikes out in first</em>
Schwarber strikes out in first

“If the worst thing that happened today is that Kyle struggled a little bit, then I’ll take that because I know he’s going to work through it,” he said.