CHICAGO — With every big swing, every defensive gem all over the infield, Javier Baez is making an argument for NL MVP.
It's turning into quite a case.
Baez homered and the Chicago Cubs took advantage of huge mistake by Ryan LaMarre, beating the crosstown White Sox 8-3 on Saturday night to increase their lead in the NL Central.
Ben Zobrist added two hits and two RBIs as the Cubs moved 2½ games ahead of second-place Milwaukee. Coupled with the Brewers' 3-0 loss at Pittsburgh, the Cubs lowered their magic number for clinching their third straight division title to six.
"We got a long ways to go," pitcher Jon Lester said when asked about the standings. "I don't ever want to jump too far ahead on that one."
Lester (17-6) labored through five innings to move into a tie with Washington ace Max Scherzer for the NL lead in wins. The left-hander allowed three runs, two earned, and eight hits in his second straight victory.
With the Cubs looking to hold off the hard-charging Brewers, Baez delivered once again. He hit a screaming liner for a two-run homer in the first and a run-scoring single in a three-run ninth. He has 34 homers and an NL-best 110 RBIs.
"I feel like I can slow down a little bit and let the game come back to me," he said, "and the pitchers, make them throw more strikes. That's what I've been doing and it's been working."
Tim Anderson connected for the White Sox, who lost for the fourth time in six games. Lucas Giolito (10-12) was charged with five runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Anderson's leadoff drive in the third tied it at 2 and made him the first shortstop in franchise history with at least 20 homers and 20 steals in a single season. But LaMarre's defensive miscue in the fifth helped the Cubs grab control.
With one out and runners on first and second, Daniel Murphy hit a drive to left field. LaMarre broke in on the ball and it sailed over his head for an RBI double. Zobrist followed with a bouncer up the middle for a two-run single, giving the Cubs a 5-2 lead.
"Basically I didn't think he hit it as well as he did," LaMarre said. "So I took a couple steps in, lost it in the lights just for a split-second. When it came out, it still had a little bit of steam on it, so it was a misread, a mistake, and I feel terrible."
The White Sox got one back on Matt Davidson's RBI single in the bottom half of the inning. But Carl Edwards Jr., Jesse Chavez, Justin Wilson and Steve Cishek closed it out for the Cubs, combining for hitless relief after Lester departed.
Anderson and White Sox manager Rick Renteria were ejected by umpire Joe West in the ninth after a hard slide by Baez into second helped break up a potential double play. Anderson also committed a throwing error, allowing Zobrist to score.
Asked about West, Anderson responded: "I don't have much to say about him. Everybody knows he's terrible. But I didn't say much. He threw me out. It's OK."
The Cubs selected Mike Freeman's contract from Triple-A Iowa to provide some infield depth after Addison Russell was placed on administrative leave Friday following fresh allegations of domestic violence from his ex-wife. Russell has said the allegations are "completely false."
Freeman's wife, Caroline, is pregnant with their first child, a girl. She is due Oct. 1.
"She's been great with it all. Knew this was a possibility," he said. "I feel like I'm definitely more nervous about it than she was. She was excited for the opportunity and very gracious and very encouraging to me, which is a huge testament to her."