Cubs roll to 5th win in a row

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CINCINNATI (AP) — The wins are adding up, the lead over the rest of the division is growing. And the defending World Series champions are feeling a little stronger every day.

Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run homer in the ballpark near his home, Tommy La Stella added a two-run shot while subbing for Kris Bryant, and the Chicago Cubs kept their second-half surge going with a 9-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night.

The Cubs opened the season still celebrating their long-awaited championship and floundered for most of the first half, with injuries playing a role. They’re much healthier now and starting to get their groove back.

Their eighth victory in 10 games moved them 11 games over .500 for the first time this season. They’ve also opened their biggest lead in the NL Central, 3 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee.

Chicago trailed the Brewers by 5 1/2 games at the All-Star break.

“The first half of the year, maybe we had some of that residual effect,” left-hander Mike Montgomery said. “Now it’s about getting to the playoffs. I think we’re completely over last year. Now we’re in a good place. We’re having fun.”

Montgomery (4-6) allowed four hits in six shutout innings, filling in for Jon Lester in the rotation. Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler homered in the ninth for the Reds.

Chicago got a little bit of everything — solid pitching, another big offensive showing, and some spectacular defense — while putting it away early.

“We played more of a formulaic kind of game,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Cubs didn’t need a homer during their 13-9 victory in the series opener on Tuesday. Schwarber provided an opposite-field shot in the fourth inning off Asher Wojciechowski (3-3), his ninth since he returned from a stint in the minors to get his swing straightened out.

“That first half is a complete wash for me,” said Schwarber, who grew up in nearby Middletown and attended Reds games as a youth. “I’ve felt a lot better at the plate recently, hitting the ball hard the last couple of days. Got to take those.”

Bryant, the National League’s MVP, sat out a day after getting hit on the side of the left hand by a pitch. He was much better and isn’t expected to miss much time. La Stella took his place at third base and had a two-run homer.

Anthony Rizzo was back at his usual spot — first base instead of third, where he spent an uneventful inning on Tuesday night. He doubled and scored twice as the Cubs quickly got ahead 9-0.