CHICAGO — The loaded Chicago Cubs are going to have to make some difficult decisions when they set their postseason roster.
From pitcher Jason Hammel’s perspective, it’s a matter of making it as tough on them as possible.
Hammel tossed seven solid innings and Dexter Fowler hit a tiebreaking single during Chicago’s three-run seventh, leading the Cubs to a 5-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
“This team continues to prove as long as you hang around for a little while they’re going to put up something,” Hammel said. “They’ll make it exciting, so kudos to those guys (for) putting some good at-bats together late.”
Hammel (15-9) allowed two runs and four hits during his best outing in a month, improving to 7-0 with 0.98 ERA in his last seven home starts. The right-hander had been struggling of late, going 1-4 with an 8.61 ERA in his previous five starts overall.
Hammel’s performance gave the franchise four pitchers with at least 15 wins for the first time since 1935. It looks as if Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta are playoff-rotation locks for the NL Central champions and John Lackey has the pole position for the fourth spot, leaving Hammel in limbo as the season winds down.
“We’ve got a good collective group here and their decisions are going to be really hard,” Hammel said, “so we’re just going to continue to do what we do, individually do our work and show up and play and then they’ll put the best team out there whenever it is.”
Jason Heyward added a two-run homer in the eighth as the Cubs moved seven games ahead of Washington for the best record in the National League, lowering their magic number for clinching home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs to five. That’s the only major goal still out there during the regular season for major league-leading Chicago after it secured the division title last week.
Brandon Phillips homered for last-place Cincinnati, which has lost five of six. Joey Votto went 2 for 3 with an RBI single and a walk, increasing his batting average since the All-Star break to .416.
The Reds allowed three more homers to run their season total to 242, breaking the major league record of 241 belonging to the 1996 Detroit Tigers.
“We just have to be better in commanding the zone,” manager Bryan Price said. “And I make it sound simple; it’s not. We certainly have to improve the quality of the talent. We’ve got to be able to get guys that can get the ball on the ground more often than we have this year.”
The Cubs (95-55) were coming off a lackluster series against the Brewers, dropping three of four while celebrating their division title, and manager Joe Maddon met with his hitters before facing the Reds to talk to them about making the most of the final part of the season.
There was no sign of any carry-over from the meeting before Addison Russell led off the seventh with a drive to left for his 21st homer. Willson Contreras crushed another homer with one out, tying it at 2 and chasing Tim Adleman from the longest start of his rookie year.
Chris Coghlan greeted Blake Wood (6-4) with a double to right. After pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella popped out, Fowler made it 3-2 with his only hit of the game.
“Dexter two-out knock right there is kind of spectacular,” Maddon said.
Hector Rondon worked the eighth before Aroldis Chapman finished for his 15th save with the Cubs and 35th on the year. It was Chapman’s first career appearance against Cincinnati, which traded the hard-throwing closer to the New York Yankees last December.
PACKING THEM IN
The paid attendance of 39,251 ran the Cubs’ season total to 3,028,965 with five home games left in the regular season. It’s the franchise’s first time drawing more than 3 million since 2011, and the ninth time at Wrigley Field overall.
Reds: RHP Homer Bailey (biceps) is scheduled for another bullpen session Wednesday. “It’s still possible that he’ll make a start or two before the year is out,” Price said.
Cubs: OF Jorge Soler (tightness on his right side) could be available to pinch hit on Tuesday, according to Maddon. … Right-handed reliever Pedro Strop, who is coming back from knee and groin injuries, is on track to pitch in a simulated game soon.
Cubs LHP Jon Lester (17-4, 2.40 ERA) faces Reds RHP Josh Smith (3-1, 4.97) on Tuesday night. Lester is 8-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last 11 starts. Smith is making his first start of the season.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap