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Glove affair: Cubs’ fielding gems carry Jon Lester to 4-0 victory over Dodgers

Javy Baez shows he has the ball after beating Enrique Hernandez back to the bag on an unassisted double play in the eighth inning Wednesday. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

If Cubs left-hander Jon Lester finds himself in the conversation to make his first All-Star start in a few weeks, he can thank Javy Baez, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr. and a few other teammates for helping start it.

The top-ranked group of fielders in the majors this season might have produced its best nine innings in defense of Lester’s pitching during a 4-0 victory Wednesday against the Dodgers.

‘‘They’ve been picking us up all year,’’ said Lester (9-2), who made the most of it on this ‘‘grind’’ of a day to get through seven innings. “It was kind of: ‘Here, I don’t have anything. Just hit it, and hopefully those guys run it down and catch it.’ And they did it today.’’

With the help of the Cubs’ gloves, Lester lowered his ERA to 2.10, third in the National League behind the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer.

video by Annie Costabile

Lester walked three, including two in the sixth. He twice put runners in scoring position with fewer than two outs early in the game, including first and third with one out in the third. The continual hard contact against him included two doubles, four line-drive outs to outfielders and four deep fly balls.

‘‘They hit the ball well, but we were in the right spots,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘In the past when we’ve won at a high level, we’ve played outstanding defense.’’

In 2016, the Cubs all but lapped the rest of the majors defensively — by several metrics and the eye test — on the way to winning the World Series. After a comparative lull last season, they’re back on top, according to outlets that measure fielding, including Fangraphs.com.

‘‘We have a lot of fun on defense,’’ Heyward said. ‘‘We know what we’re capable of.’’

This game against the Dodgers offered an example at nearly every position:

Leading off the second, Baez — playing shortstop — ranged deep in the hole to field a ball, then set and threw so strongly to get Logan Forsythe that first baseman Anthony Rizzo didn’t even need to stretch.

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With runners at the corners in the third, Justin Turner flied deep to right fielder Heyward, whose 300-foot throw reached catcher Willson Contreras on a line just as runner Chris Taylor reached Contreras, who got a bloody nose out of the hard tag.

‘‘Unbelievable,’’ center fielder Almora said.

Taylor was only at third on that play because he was held up while rounding the bag on Enrique Hernandez’s single to left on the previous play when Kyle Schwarber (NL-leading seven outfield assists) came up throwing.

Leading off the fourth, third baseman Kris Bryant slid toward the line to backhand Matt Kemp’s shot inside the bag, then leaped up and threw him out by a step.

Leading off the seventh, Yasiel Puig drove a low line drive for what looked to be a sure hit to center — until a charging Almora dived to catch it inches from the grass.

By then, Lester had grown weary of applauding all the fielding gems behind him.

‘‘Al comes in and dives for one, and I’m just like, ‘OK, I’m done clapping for you guys,’ ’’ Lester said. ‘‘It’s expected now that these guys make these plays.’’

<em>Contreras celebrates the play in the third</em>
Contreras celebrates the play in the third

After Lester left the game, Baez moved to second on the double switch and made a play in the eighth to rival the rest. With nobody out and Hernandez on second, Baez leaped to grab a line drive by Turner near the back of the infield dirt, then raced to the bag, diving to get his glove there before Hernandez’s hand.

‘‘It can be dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that,’’ Maddon said.

Maddon compared Baez’s willingness to throw his body around on the bases and in the field to former Packer Chuck Cecil: ‘‘He just plays like a free safety.’’

Baez, who also doubled twice and tripled, said he can’t play any other way.

‘‘I’ve got to be me out there,’’ he said.