MILWAUKEE (AP) — Two levels up at Miller Park, two Chicago Cubs fans held up a "W'' banner to signify another win for the one of the hottest teams in the majors since the All-Star break.
The Cubs are rolling with the non-waiver trade deadline approaching Monday, having surged into first place over the last two weeks thanks to effective starting pitching and just enough timely hitting.
Victor Caratini hit his first career home run, a solo shot that broke a 2-all tie in the seventh and backed John Lackey's solid six-inning start in 4-2 win on Sunday over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Kris Bryant added an insurance run in the eighth with a solo homer off the left-field pole for the Cubs, who took two of three games in an important road series. Now 13-3 since the break, Chicago increased its lead in the National League Central over the second-place Brewers to 2 1/2 games.
"Hitting is always sporadic, it's tough to string together things sometimes," Bryant said. "But our pitching has been really consistent, giving us a chance every day."
Lackey (8-9) struck out seven and allowed five hits over six innings, including Domingo Santana's game-tying, two-run homer in the sixth that just landed beyond outfielder Jason Heyward's outstretched glove in the right-field corner.
Caratini gave the Cubs the lead for good an inning later after homering off a 1-2 fastball from Zach Davies (12-5) with one out in the seventh for a 3-2 lead. A bevy of Cubs fans who made the trek north from Chicago celebrated in the stands as if they were home at Wrigley Field.
Chicago starters are 11-1 with a 2.53 ERA since the All-Star break.
"We always knew there was talent in the room," Lackey said. "We've done a pretty good job of that since the break, but we have a long way to go too."
Davies allowed seven hits and three runs over an otherwise effective seven innings. The right-hander struck out seven and gave up his first earned run since July 14 on Willson Contreras' infield single with two outs to open the scoring in a two-run sixth.
"Nobody feels good after you lose a game," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "But there's a big chunk of the schedule left. ... We have a tremendous opportunity still. I know we recognize that."
Wade Davis pitched a scoreless ninth for his 22nd save.
The Brewers are now hitless over their last 31 at-bats with runners in scoring position, a franchise record set when Davies flied out with the bases loaded in the ninth.
"A week without a hit with runners in scoring position, that's not really acceptable. We have to find a way to cash in on those opportunities," said cleanup hitter Travis Shaw.
"Not only was it my first career homer, but it helped the team win. I feel amazing right now." Caratini, through an interpreter, about his homer.
The Brewers optioned opening day starter Junior Guerra to Triple-A Colorado Springs and selected the contract of left-handed reliever Wei-Chung Wang, who was 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA at Triple-A. Guerra has struggled after leaving his opening day start with a calf injury. The right-hander was 1-4 with a 4.96 ERA after returning from the disabled list on May 26.
Cubs: Caratini started at first for Anthony Rizzo, who had back soreness following the Cubs' 2-1 win in 11 innings on Saturday night. The team is off on Monday, so manager Joe Maddon was hopeful that a two-day break would help Rizzo. "We'll call it day-to-day right now. There's no reason to push him right now," the skipper said.
Brewers: The demotion of Guerra, along with injuries to right-handers Chase Anderson (oblique) and Matt Garza (right leg strain), has left holes in the rotation. Anderson is due to throw another bullpen session on Tuesday or Wednesday, while Counsell hoped to have a better idea on Garza's timeline in the next couple days.
Cubs: After a day off, LHP Jon Lester (8-6) opens a three-game series at home on Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lester is 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break.
Brewers: Jimmy Nelson (8-5) takes the mound on Tuesday to open a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The right-hander is 0-8 with a 7.01 ERA in 11 career games against St. Louis.