Jon Lester tossed eight strong innings and Anthony Rizzo belted two homers Wednesday as Chicago clinched at least a tie for the National League Central title with a 7-0 pounding of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs (93-52) can pop champagne with a win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Maddon and his players are itching to do it.
"Let's do it," Maddon said. "The sooner, the better, so that we can make our appropriate plans going forward and really set things up to make our best push."
Maddon was concerned about his team just before first pitch, saying that it looked dead on its feet in 84-degree weather and punishing humidity. But the veteran battery of Lester and David Ross put a nine-inning charge into their teammates.
Lester (17-4) allowed only three hits and a walk, striking out eight in his sixth straight start that he's allowed either zero or one runs. In his last nine starts, Lester is 7-0 with a 1.02 earned run average over 61 2/3 innings.
Asked if this was as well as he's ever pitched over an extended period, Lester demurred.
"I can't remember that far back," he said, laughing. "I'm just trying to stay in my little bubble between starts and prepare the best I can. I was glad to give a quality start and go eight innings, considering how hot it was."
It was only Lester's fourth hit in 52 at-bats.
"You've seen my at-bats," he said. "I'm just trying to give a good at-bat. He elevated a changeup for me and I got it far enough out there to give us a run."
Ross upped the lead to 3-0 in the fifth with his ninth homer, a 429-foot blast to center with Jason Heyward aboard. The veteran, who's retiring at season's end, also tossed a pair of baserunners out when St. Louis tried to take advantage of Lester's slow delivery to the plate.
Rizzo made it 4-0 in the sixth when he walloped his 30th homer to the seats in right. In the ninth, Kris Bryant's two-out triple that landed in front of and bounced past diving center fielder Randal Grichuk scored pinch-hitter Jorge Soler, and Rizzo lined his second homer of the day on the next pitch.
With that blast, Rizzo joined Billy Williams as the only left-handed hitters in franchise history to enjoy multiple 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons.
"His numbers speak for themselves," Rizzo said of Williams. "He did it so many years, so it's a really good feeling. It's not easy to do, and I don't take it for granted one bit."
Martinez gave up four runs on eight hits over six innings, walking none and fanning nine as his four-game winning streak ended.
"I worked really hard," he said. "They were smart in looking for pitches they were expecting on my behalf, so that's why they made some good contact. They deserve credit for having a good game."
The Cardinals (76-69) endured their third straight losing homestand and fell to 33-41 at home, clinching their first losing season at Busch Stadium III since it opened in 2006. Prior to this year, their last losing season at home occurred in 1999.
Yet St. Louis is still just a game behind the New York Mets for the second NL wild card and 1 1/2 games back of San Francisco for the first wild card, pending the outcome of those teams' games Wednesday. The Cardinals open a four-game series in San Francisco Thursday night.
"When we go on the road, we play a little more loose, a little more relaxed," left fielder Brandon Moss said.
NOTES: St. Louis RHP Michael Wacha (right shoulder inflammation) was activated off the 15-day DL Wednesday morning. Wacha, who was 7-7 with a 4.45 ERA in 23 starts before being disabled Aug. 9, will pitch out of the bullpen for the season's remainder. ... Chicago is on a pace to draw a franchise-record 658 walks, which would be eight more than it coaxed back in 1975. Its 584 walks entering Wednesday led MLB. ... The Cardinals are expected to activate RHP Trevor Rosenthal (right shoulder inflammation) and LF Matt Holliday (right thumb fracture) from the DL before the week's over.