CHICAGO -- The Cubs finished August with a 17-12 record, their most wins in a month this season, and they added another player to possibly help in the playoff push, acquiring outfielder Leonys Martin from the Mariners. Will that be enough to get the defending World Series champions deep into the postseason again?
"I like what we've got," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after a 6-2 win Thursday night over the Braves at Wrigley Field. "We're playing better right now. Our game has picked up, better at-bats consistently, the defense has gotten tighter and the starters are better. ... I absolutely believe the ingredients are there."
What will be key to watch in the final month of regular-season games will be how the Cubs deal with the absence of shortstop Addison Russell, expected to be sidelined at least three more weeks after aggravating the plantar faciitis in his right foot. Javier Baez has taken over since Aug. 3 when Russell was injured.
"My biggest concern is Javy moving through September," Maddon said. "Without Addison, that's a difficult thought."
Jon Lester will return to the rotation Saturday, his first start since Aug. 17 after missing time because of fatigue in his left shoulder. Catcher Willson Contreras (right hamstring strain) is nearing the end of his four-week DL stint. He's been out since Aug. 11.
Maddon sees more positives. Jon Jay has provided stability at leadoff. Jay collected his second four-hit game of the season Thursday, recording three hits off a left-hander for the first time this year.
"At the beginning of the season, I said I thought he was an acquired taste -- someone you have to watch play often," Maddon said of Jay. "If you pop in and watch him for a game, you might not be duly impressed, but watch him every game, and he's impressive."
Jay has led off 35 games, second-highest on the Cubs, one game behind leader Kyle Schwarber (36 games).
"He's been a tremendous pickup for us," Maddon said of Jay.
At the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July, the Cubs acquired lefty Justin Wilson, and the reliever scuffled in his first few games with the team. On Thursday, he struck out the side in the ninth and could help in late-inning situations.
"That's what he's capable of doing and that's what could make a huge difference moving down the September road," Maddon said.
Wilson admits he went through a "little funk," but wasn't sure if he would've had those problems if he'd stayed with the Tigers. The lefty made some mechanical tweaks and it's working.
"Everything feels good now and I'm playing good baseball and I have to keep that rolling," Wilson said.
Martin, 29, was acquired along with cash for a player to be named and cash. He was not put on the Cubs' 40-man roster immediately, but is in the organization in time to be eligible to play in the postseason.
He began the season as the Mariners' starting center fielder and batted .174 in 34 games. At Triple-A Tacoma, he hit .307 with 11 home runs, 24 doubles and 39 RBIs.
Are the Cubs trending in the right direction?
"Our pitchers have been great in the second half and our at-bats have been really great, too," said third baseman Kris Bryant, who hit a two-run homer in Thursday's victory. "I think in August, we had a great month overall. It's all positive signs."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.