Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs top New York Mets in series opener, maintain NL Central lead

The Cubs' Kris Bryant (center) celebrates with Jose Quintana (left) and Jason Heyward after they scored on Bryant's three-run home run against the New York Mets in the fourth inning Tuesday at Wrigley Field.[]

CHICAGO – Anthony Rizzo was mostly accurate in his assessment of the Cubs before Tuesday night’s 8-3 series-opening victory over the New York Mets.

“We’re in first place, and I think every single person standing here right now is overlooking that,” Rizzo said as he surveyed a media throng that formed a deep semicircle around him. “Where we’re at now is an unbelievable position that we can’t take for granted.”

Actually, most media members have been documenting every day that the Cubs are in first place. They’ve also pointed out that it hasn’t come easy.

The Cubs made sure they stayed in front of the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central. Both of the Cubs’ rivals won Tuesday, keeping the Cubs two games ahead of the Cardinals and 2½ ahead of the Brewers.

This one didn’t come easy at first, either, as the Cubs stranded five runners over the first three innings before breaking through with four runs in the fourth.

Pitcher Jose Quintana (6-3 with the Cubs) drove in the first run by bunting Kyle Schwarber home from third base, and Kris Bryant drove in three with his 26th homer of the season. The Cubs later got homers from Schwarber (No. 26) and Ian Happ (No. 22) as they snapped a three-game losing streak.

Manager Joe Maddon seems comfortable with where his team is positioned.

“Listen, it’s just about having one more win than everybody else by the end of the season,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with this. Last year was one method. We have to learn another method this year. A couple years ago we won 97 and had to be the second wild-card team to get in there. It’s just the way this thing plays. And if you’re looking for this perfect situation on an annual basis, I’ve often told my players perfection is a boring concept. If if was that easy to do it, nobody would ever do it.

“I like the fact that it’s difficult right now, and I think that we should learn something about ourselves moving forward. And the biggest thing to learn is that it’s not about anybody else. It’s about us playing well. If we play well and take care of our business, we’ll be fine.”

Bryant echoed those sentiments after his big night.

“That’s all we have to do, is just keep pace with them (St. Louis and Milwaukee), and things will work out,” he said. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. No team is just going to roll over. (It’s) completely different than last year and the year before that. The year before, we were battling to win a wild-card spot, and now we’re battling to win a division ... Now, it’s like we expect a lot more of ourselves.”

Quintana pushed himself to seven innings, throwing 112 pitches.

“He was coming off the mound after the sixth,” Maddon said. “He was pointing at me, one more (inning). I had already made up my mind I was going to do it anyway.”