AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO — The young sluggers of the Chicago Cubs are making themselves at home in the playoffs.
On a rare off night for Jake Arrieta, the Windy City rookies bashed their way to the brink of the NL Championship Series.
Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber connected during a six-homer show for the Cubs, who beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-4 on Monday for a 2-1 lead in the NL Division Series. Arrieta struck out nine before departing in the sixth inning, and the bullpen finished the job in the first postseason game at Wrigley Field in seven years.
A third straight win for the Cubs on Tuesday afternoon, and the once woebegone franchise will advance to the NLCS for the first time in 12 years. The Cardinals, who led the majors with 100 wins this season, have won at least one playoff series in each of the last four years.
Jason Hammel starts at home in Game 4. John Lackey, who won the opener, pitches for the Cardinals.
Jason Heyward and Stephen Piscotty homered for St. Louis, which got to Arrieta for four runs in his worst start in four months. But the Cardinals were unable to keep the Cubs in the ballpark.
The six homers for Chicago set a franchise record for a playoff game, one more than its total from Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS against San Diego.
The Cardinals trailed 8-4 before Piscotty hit a two-run shot with two out in the ninth, a scary moment for a towel-waving crowd of 42,411 used to playoff heartache. But Hector Rondon retired Matt Holliday on a harmless bouncer to second, and the party was on.
Arrieta improved to 18-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his last 22 starts dating to June 21, but he was far from his usual dominant self. He hadn’t allowed more than three runs in a game since a June 16 loss to Cleveland.
And it didn’t matter, not one bit.
Schwarber, Starlin Castro and Bryant homered against Michael Wacha in his first playoff appearance since he threw the final pitch of the 2014 postseason for the Cardinals, a game-ending, three-run shot for Travis Ishikawa in the NLCS against the Giants.
“Today we got his back — just like he always got our backs,” Castro said.
Bryant’s two-run drive made it 4-2 with one out in the fifth and chased Wacha in favor of Kevin Siegrist. But Anthony Rizzo followed another long ball, a drive to right for his first hit of the playoffs.
Even Adam Wainwright got into the act, serving up Soler’s two-run shot in the sixth. Soler, who struggled with injuries for much of the year, is 4 for 4 with two homers, four RBIs and five walks in the series.
The final homer for Chicago went to Dexter Fowler, practically an elder statesman in Joe Maddon’s youthful lineup. Fowler doesn’t turns 30 until March, but Soler, Bryant, Rizzo, Schwarber and Castro are all 26 or younger.
INJURED RUSSELL: Cubs shortstop Addison Russell left in the fourth with tightness in his left hamstring. Russell made a headfirst slide into third on a two-out triple. A trainer and manager Joe Maddon then came out to check on the rookie, who was replaced by Javier Baez.
BANGED-UP CARDINALS: St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina winced on a swing-and-miss in the fourth inning, and then was checked on by a trainer and manager Mike Matheny. Molina missed the last part of the regular season due to a strained ligament in his left thumb. Piscotty and second baseman Kolten Wong were shaken up after a collision in foul territory in the fifth.
UP NEXT: Facing elimination, St. Louis will go back to Lackey on short rest. He pitched 7 1-3 innings of two-hit ball in the Cardinals’ 4-0 victory on Friday. Hammel pitched five shutout innings in his final start of the regular season on Oct. 1 at Cincinnati. The right-hander is 0-1 with a 4.80 ERA in four career playoff games.