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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — One of the hottest pitchers in baseball was at his best early on, yet the Cubs’ high-powered hitters didn’t get discouraged.
Javier Baez hit one of three solo home runs off Cy Young contender Aaron Nola to reach 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, and Jon Lester pitched six shutout innings to continue his mastery of the Phillies in NL Central-leading Chicago’s 8-1 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday.
Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rizzo also went deep off Nola (15-4), who gave up three home runs in a game for the second time over 88 starts in his four-year career.
Murphy’s homer was a game changer. Nola fanned seven of the first nine hitters before Murphy’s two-out shot to right field in the third inning gave Chicago a 1-0 lead.
“It can really lead to a frustrating dugout,” Lester said of the early struggles, “but you didn’t hear it or see it.”
Murphy looked bad while weakly fouling off the previous two pitches before launching a 1-2, 94-mph fastball into the seats
“We just grind out at-bats,” Murphy said. “We really made Aaron work today.”
Chicago, which has won 10 of 12, leads the Cardinals by 5 ½ games.
“We’ve been playing as well as we’ve played all year the last two weeks,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The guys have been doing wonderfully and it’s impressive.”
Lester (15-5) surrendered eight hits, struck out seven and walked none while improving to 8-0 with a 1.49 ERA in 10 career regular-season starts against the Phillies.
The Phillies began the day three games back of Atlanta, which hosted Pittsburgh on Sunday night. Jorge Alfaro had two hits, including an RBI double in the ninth, for Philadelphia.
“That’s just an incredible offense, and today they just won,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think that’s the long and short of it.”
Kapler moved Nola up a day to give him another start at home, where the star right-hander has been dominant. It backfired. Nola gave up four runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts and two walks.
“Every loss right now hurts as a team, but I’m going to put this one behind me,” Nola said.
Rizzo led off the fourth by hitting an 0-1, 85 mph changeup over the wall in left, and Baez, the league leader in RBIs entering Sunday, hit a 1-2 fastball out to left in the sixth.
Nola also gave up an RBI triple to Kyle Schwarber in the sixth to snap a string of 17 straight home starts allowing three runs or less. He dropped to 9-1 at home, where his ERA rose from 1.94 to 2.21. Nola’s overall ERA increased from 2.10 to 2.23.
The other top contenders for the NL Cy Young, Washington’s Max Scherzer and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, will pitch on Monday.
(Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)