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Cubs cruise, but lineup still incomplete

Contreras homers in return; Zobrist also back, but Báez, Bryant sit out with injuries

CHICAGO – A couple in, a couple out.

The Cubs fielded a little more familiar lineup Tuesday night at Wrigley Field against the Seattle Mariners with Willson Contreras back off the injured list and Ben Zobrist making his first start since coming off the restricted list.

As good as that might have looked to manager Joe Maddon, his enthusiasm might have been tempered because Kris Bryant was a late lineup scratch because of a sore right knee, and Javy Báez missed his second start with a jammed left thumb.

Contreras announced his presence with a booming home run to left-center field leading off the bottom of the second inning, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead on the way to a 6-1 victory.

The Cubs (75-63) remained three games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.

“Felt really good,” Contreras said. “It felt really special, the welcome that I got. It was a special moment for me because I got hurt a month ago and battled my way back.”

One of these days, Maddon hopes to have the whole band back together again. Until then, he’ll have to make do.

“We still have nine good names in the lineup,” he said. “It would have been nice to see what it looked like with everybody. But it just did not want to occur today. I was thinking, ‘OK, we’re just missing Javy today.’ And then all of a sudden, that went away a little bit, too. So with that, I wanted to do a little bit different with the lineup.”

That little bit different included having switch hitter Zobrist leading off with left-hander Kyle Schwarber moving up to the No. 2 spot. Maddon followed with right-handed hitting Nicholas Castellanos and lefty Anthony Rizzo.

Maddon long has maintained that if the Cubs are going to have a run of success – and time is running short – it’s going to have to be driven by offense, and offense has been the most inconsistent part of the Cubs’ game all year.

“It’s just organization of strike zone,” Maddon said. “We’ve pitched well enough. We’ve caught the ball well enough. Regardless of people being hurt or not, that doesn’t really matter. We have good players. We just have to make it more difficult to get us in (the) strike zone. If we can adhere to that, we’ll be fine the rest of the month.”

Maddon’s machinations paid off in the sixth, when the Cubs took a 5-0 lead. Zobrist led off with a bunt single, and Schwarber singled to center. Castellanos followed with his 23rd homer of the year, an opposite-field drive to right. Schwarber crushed his 33rd of the year leading off the bottom of the seventh.

Cubs starter Jon Lester (12-9) worked six innings of six-hit ball. He stranded the bases loaded three times.

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