CHICAGO -- It's American Legion week for the Cubs, something manager Joe Maddon created as a salute to the days when kids would show up at the neighborhood diamond to play without much prep work. Maddon's version encourages players to report late to the ballpark, and there is no batting practice. It worked on Wednesday.
Jorge Soler smacked a three-run homer and David Ross added a solo shot to back Jon Lester and lift the Cubs to a 6-1 victory over the Brewers at Wrigley Field in front of 40,310. Chicago has won 23 of the last 31 games since the All-Star break.
"He's a presence," Lester said of Soler, who is batting .338 in his last 25 games. "He just lengthens our lineup. I love our lineup. … The [opposing] pitcher has to work to get to the bottom of the order."
Lester said his command was off, but he still struck out seven over 6 2/3 innings, and the Cubs now are 6-0 in his last six starts. Chicago starting pitchers have been on a roll, too, and are 11-0 with a 1.13 ERA (13 earned runs over 103 1/3 innings) in the last 15 games.
Soler's homer highlighted a five-run first inning and came off Milwaukee's Jimmy Nelson, who is now winless in four starts against the Cubs. Ross connected off the right-hander with two outs in the third for his eighth homer of the season, the most since he belted nine in 2012.
"It keeps going. There's a game the next day," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, acknowledging his club's offensive struggles. "We get to compete tomorrow. We'll put together better at-bats; we'll score some runs. But it's tough right now. We're having a tough go of it putting together offense, that's for sure. There's no breaks, there's no quit. Come out tomorrow and we've got a tough matchup as well. So we'll just keep going at it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED First things first: The Cubs sent 10 batters to the plate in the first. Nelson walked Dexter Fowler and then hit Kris Bryant with a pitch. One out later, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell hit back-to-back RBI singles, and Soler followed with his home run, which Statcast™ recorded at 450 feet with an exit velocity of 107 mph. Nelson needed 49 pitches to get through the inning. Chicago has outscored opponents 78-45 in the first inning.
"When you get five in the first, it's nice to take a breather, especially after [Tuesday's] long day," Ross said. "[Soler's] home run was huge. It didn't create a scenario where we had to grind as much."
No relief for Nelson: More than a month has passed since Nelson last threw a pitch past the fifth inning. With Wednesday's performance, he has surrendered 34 runs (25 earned) on 39 hits, including seven home runs, with 17 walks and seven hit batsmen over 28 innings in his last six starts, all losses. His long first inning doomed him on Wednesday; Nelson retired the final seven batters he faced, but was at 99 pitches after five frames.
Manufacturing a run: Lester retired 10 batters in a row before Keon Broxton singled leading off the sixth and ran his way onto the scoreboard. Broxton stole second, then stole third without a throw before scoring on Orlando Arcia's soft grounder toward first base. It marked the Brewers' second run in the first 24 innings of this series.
"I just look at all the things Keon can bring to the table," Counsell said. "Certainly right now, his baserunning is at the top of the list of what he's bringing to the table. His baserunning is getting to a really elite level, in my opinion."
"You show up, get dressed and play a little catch and get your body loose, and go. I took five swings in the cage because I was prepping for their lineup. … It's kind of a mental break. It's Joe's sneaky way of getting us ready for the West Coast, sleeping in more. He's really aware of what's to come." -- Ross, on American Legion week
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Cubs are 33 games over .500 for the first time since finishing the 2008 season at 97-64. They're 17-3 in the last 20 games, the best 20-game stretch by a Cubs team since going 17-3 from May 19-June 12, 2001.
There's no place like Wrigley Field for the Cubs, either. They're 44-19 at home, and the .698 winning percentage is the best since going 56-21 (.727) in 1935.
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers:Zach Davies will try to help the Brewers salvage something when their four-game series against the Cubs concludes Thursday at 1:20 p.m. CT. With Junior Guerra on the disabled list, Davies is the Brewers' best starting pitcher, though he's coming off a loss to the Reds in which he surrendered five earned runs and eight hits in five innings. The Brewers are 11-10 when he starts.
Cubs:Jake Arrieta will close the Cubs' homestand on Thursday, making his 24th start of the season. He is 5-3 with a 1.70 ERA in 11 starts at Wrigley Field compared to 9-2 with a 3.29 ERA on the road. The right-hander has given up one earned run over 20 innings in his last three starts against the Brewers. First pitch will be 1:20 p.m. CT.