Cubs

Offensive explosion: Baez, Cubs annihilate Diamondbacks in opener

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Offensive explosion: Baez, Cubs annihilate Diamondbacks in opener

Looks like the day off did the Cubs good, huh?

The offense absolutely exploded as the Cubs (76-57) obliterated Diamondbacks (65-70) pitching in a 14-5 win Friday afternoon in front of 36,132 fans at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs (76-57) collected 12 hits - including four homers - and drew eight walks. Cubs hitters forced six Diamondbacks pitchers to throw 181 pitches over the eight innings.

"There were so many positives out there today," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

[WATCH: Javy Baez gets reacquainted with Wrigley Field bleachers]

The Cubs broke the game open in the fifth inning, sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring eight runs. Anthony Rizzo hit a grand slam and Javier Baez crushed his first big-league homer of the season. 

It was the first time the Cubs have scored eight runs in an inning since July 30, 2012 and the most runs scored at Wrigley since June 23, 2013. The Cubs are also 6-0 when they hit four or more homers this season.

It was especially impressive given that the wind was blowing in Friday afternoon. Both Rizzo and Bryant flew out to the warning track in the third inning on balls that probably would have been out if not for the wind.

But then, "Rizzo broke the wind..." Maddon said, smirking at his joke.

Everywhere you look at the Cubs box score, there were offensive stars.

Baez went 3-for-4 with a walk, driving in three runs in his second start since being recalled when rosters expanded Tuesday.

Addison Russell hit homers his first two times up before walking and scoring a run in the fifth. Rizzo added a single and a walk to his grand slam. Chris Coghlan walked twice, singled, drove in a run and scored twice.

"How about Addison? He pummeled those two balls into the wind," Maddon said. "Really good at-bats. Continues to do a wonderful job at shortstop. Twelve homers now - that's pretty impressive for that young man."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Jon Lester even contributed on the offensive end, reaching base twice - on a walk and an error - and scoring a pair of runs. It was the first run of his MLB career.

"There's a first for everything. Took me nine years to do it, but better late than never. It's a little bit easier when it's a home run, too. You don't have to worry about too much - just jog around the bases," Lester said, while also joking he should have been sent on Austin Jackson's two-out base hit in the fifth inning (Lester later scored on Coghlan's bases-loaded walk).

"It's cool. It's different being out there again. It's been a while - obviously high school and all that stuff. It's fun running the bases."

Lester profited from the offensive output, picking up his ninth win of the season while allowing two runs in five innings.

He admitted Friday's start was a "grind" and wished he could have pitched more efficiently to stay in longer and get another step closer toward his season goal of 200 innings.

"At the end of the day, a W is a W," Lester said. "You gotta look at it that way and take the positive from it."

Former Cubs prospect Zack Godley - part of the Miguel Montero trade over the winter - took the loss by walking six and allowing four hits (two homers) and six runs in 3.2 innings. Godley was 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA prior to Friday.

The Cubs entered the game with only a +20 run differential, which was actually lower than the Diamondbacks' mark (+22), even though the Cubs had an 11-game lead on the D-Backs in the National League wild card race.

As for the day off Thursday, Maddon said the young team responded well to the rest.

"We were pretty spunky in the dugout prior to the game," Maddon said. "The guys were ready to roll. There was a great vibe among the whole group and you saw it.

"We needed that day [off]. It was very much necessary." 

The Cubs have only two days off the rest of the way, playing 30 games in a 31-day span, including a doubleheader in Pittsburgh on Sept. 15.

Friday was a nice start to the final stretch.

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Growing up in the Chicago area, we have been fortunate to hear some of the greatest names in sports broadcasting. From Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Pat Foley to Jim Durham to Pat Hughes to Wayne Larrivee, the list is long and illustrious of the best play-by-play men in Chicago sports history.

For me, growing up listening to and watching many of these men on an almost daily basis only served to stoke my interest in pursuing sports broadcasting as my chosen career. All of the greats were obviously well prepared and technically excellent calling their respective sports, but for me one man stood above the rest because of his irreverence and ability to entertain people in a variety of ways. I ran home from Middleton School in Skokie to watch the final innings of many afternoon Cubs games in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and I loved Jack Brickhouse and the enthusiasm he brought to each and every broadcast.

However, Harry Caray was the one that captured my heart and pulled me toward this great field of radio and TV broadcasting. Harry was one of the best technical baseball announcers in the history of the sport, but many people who only became aware of him as the announcer for the Cubs on WGN-TV only got to experience him in the twilight of his career, when he was best known for singing the Seventh Inning Stretch and his mispronunciations of players' names.

In the main portion of his 50-plus-year career, Harry called some of the game's greatest moments and saw many of the all-time greats. As the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and the White Sox, he became one of the best in the sport with his colorful calls and honesty about the team he was working for. Fans loved his willingness to tell the truth and to openly cheer for the team he was affiliated with. However, when he was hired as the voice of the Cubs on WGN-TV, he became larger than life. With the power of the superstation behind him, he reached another level. A whole new generation of young people became Cubs fans — even if the team wasn't very good — because of the man in the funny glasses who was wildly entertaining.

I fell in love with his style and his entertainment ability. He was must-watch TV even when the games weren't very good. Until the Cubs signed Jon Lester and he became a key member of a World Series champion, Harry Caray was the single best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs. From 1982 to 1997, he was bigger than almost every player who wore Cubbie Blue. Former All-Star first baseman Mark Grace remembered with a wry smile a story from his days as a Cub that shows just how big Caray was in relation to even the biggest-name players.

"We were playing the Marlins in Miami, and I was signing autographs alongside Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg," Grace said. "There were long lines for each of us, and then Harry poked his head out of the Cubs dugout. The fans spotted him and someone yelled: 'Hey everybody, there's Harry!'

"I'm not kidding, everybody ran over to him, and the three of us were left with no one to sign for. We looked at each other, and Sutcliffe says to us, 'Guys, now you know where we rank on the totem pole.'"

Harry Caray was a legend and for me. He was the most entertaining play-by-play man I ever listened to. I still find myself listening to old tapes of him, and I am still as entertained today as I was then. Harry was simply the best.