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Cubs finish sweep of Cardinals with 13-5 rout, move into first place

Chicago Cubs' Ben Zobrist, left, Albert Almora Jr., center, and Jason Heyward celebrate after the Chicago Cubs defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 13-5 in a baseball game, Sunday, May 5, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ORG XMIT: CXC124

The chant started in the eighth inning and gained volume as it spread through the ballpark.

Sweeep. Sweeep. Sweeep.”

Cardinals fielders waited for the next pitch and pretended not to hear the crowd. Some Cubs fans leaned over the walls in foul territory and pantomimed sweeping a broom with exaggerated motions from right to left.

After an ugly start to the season, the mood has brightened on the North Side.

The Cubs cruised to a 13-5 win over the Cardinals on Sunday night to finish off a three-game sweep and win their seventh game in a row. The victory pushed the Cubs a half-game in front of the Cardinals for first place in the NL Central.

“Everything has really been clicking for us,” said Kris Bryant, who hit a grand slam during a six-run eighth inning. “This is the type of baseball that’s super fun to be a part of.”

Since starting the season 2-7, the Cubs have won 17 of 22.

Reliable pitching has fueled the Cubs’ run, and the trend continued with a quality start from Jose Quintana in the series finale.

Quintana (4-1) allowed two runs on eight hits in six innings. He walked two and struck out two.

“To sweep this team is really important for us,” said Quintana, who is 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his past five starts. “Take first place right now and keep going like we’ve been playing the last two weeks. That’s a really good feeling.”

In their last 22 games, Cubs pitchers have combined to post a 2.48 ERA (56 earned runs in 203 innings). They have allowed two runs or fewer in 13 of those contests and nearly did so Sunday if not for a woeful ninth inning from Tyler Chatwood.

A healthy dose of run production has helped, too.

Willson Contreras opened the scoring in the second when he belted a solo home run into the bleachers in right-center field. It was his ninth homer, which ranks second on the team behind Javy Baez (11). Contreras is only one homer shy of matching his season total from 2018.

David Bote, Anthony Rizzo and Contreras each finished with two RBIs apiece.

Ben Zobrist shined at the plate (2-for-4, RBI) and in left field, where he threw out Matt Carpenter and third base and made a diving catch on a sinking line drive by Yadier Molina. The plays preserved a narrow lead in the early innings when the game was anyone’s to take.

“He’s been a good outfielder for a long time,” Joe Maddon said. “He relishes that role. He works diligently, daily. We tell him in advance where he’s going to play, and he knows that, and he’s going to work there the day before. Not a surprise.”

What is a surprise is how quickly the Cubs have moved past their miserable start.

Maddon figured his team would be playing catch-up in the standings through Memorial Day.

“Whenever I have been with a team that has gotten in a hole, I’ve always thought about one game a week, try to pick up one a week, and then you get back to normalcy,” he said. “But it’s incredible how quickly we’ve been able to get our feet back on the ground.”

Bryant cautioned that more battles against the Cardinals await.

“We know it’s going to be a battle this whole year with them, with the Brewers, with the rest of our division, so it’s nice to kind of get this one out of the way early with three wins,” Bryant said. “That was just a weird start to the year. We all knew we had talent here.”