PITTSBURGH -- The Cubs have watched their 12 1/2-game lead in the National League Central shrink to seven games, but they'll take it after capping the first half on Sunday with a much-needed win.
Anthony Rizzo had his second consecutive four-hit day, rookie Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run homer, Addison Russell smacked a two-run single and Kris Bryant hit a tie-breaking RBI single in the eighth to lift the Cubs to a 6-5 victory over the Pirates and avoid a sweep at PNC Park.
"We need a break -- we need to reset," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
Rizzo followed his four-hit game on Saturday with another four-hit game, hitting a pair of doubles and two singles, to raise his batting average to .299. He finished with eight consecutive hits, two shy of the modern day NL record, last done by the Braves' Matt Diaz in 2006.
With the game tied at 5 and one out in the Chicago eighth, pinch-hitter Matt Szczur doubled off Tony Watson. One out later, Bryant smacked an RBI single to left for his 65th RBI.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Make new stars, but keep the old: In the seventh, Andrew McCutchen had a sacrifice fly that scored Josh Bell, tying the game at 5-5. Bell drew a walk on the ninth pitch of his third Major League at-bat to get on base and managed to beat Jason Heyward's throw to home plate to score. McCutchen added a solo shot to center field in the third. He had six RBIs in the series and is batting .313 in July. More >
Quality stuff: The Cubs' starting pitching has hit a rough patch this month, without a quality start in 10 games. That includes Sunday, when John Lackey gave up five runs over six-plus innings. Lackey walked Bell to open the seventh and John Jaso singled. Pedro Strop replaced Lackey, and got Starling Marte to hit a potential double-play ball to third baseman Javier Baez. But the Cubs only got one out at second, and McCutchen followed with his game-tying sacrifice fly.
Maddon and athletic trainer PJ Mainville went to check on Lackey after he was hit by a line drive in the second. The right-hander shooed the two away and they never even got to the mound.
"He wanted none of that," Maddon said. "PJ went first and I didn't want to leave him hanging. I knew the reception wouldn't be glorious. [Lackey] definitely told us where to go, and we did."
Heating up: Rodriguez has now homered in three straight games, and homered in four of his last five. In the second inning, Rodriguez sent a solo shot to center field off Lackey. It was his 10th home run of the season.
We deliver: The Cubs got started quickly on Sunday. They loaded the bases in the first on singles by Ben Zobrist, Rizzo and Willson Contreras, and Russell followed with a two-run single. After the Pirates took a 3-2 lead in the second, the Cubs tied the game in the third on Contreras' run-scoring groundout and then went ahead in the fourth on Almora's two-run homer.
"This All-Star break is going to be good. It's a good reset button, with my family. Come back in the second half and start executing pitches." -- Niese, on needing time to recharge after his recent struggles
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Kyle Hendricks will open the second half on Friday, facing the team that drafted him. Hendricks, who was picked in the eighth round in 2011 by the Rangers, will face Texas for the start of an Interleague series at Wrigley Field. He's 5-1 with a 1.67 ERA in nine games at home. First pitch will be 1:20 p.m. CT.
Pirates: The Pirates will begin the second half of the season with a three-game road series with the NL East-leading Nationals on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET, but have not yet announced a starting pitcher.