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Maddon will keep eye on standings while Cubs play Jays

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon admits that he pays attention to the standings.

And the close National League Central race has been one to watch.

Chicago leads Milwaukee by two games and St. Louis by 2 1/2 after Saturday's 4-3 victory over Toronto.

"It's tight, it's good, it's interesting," Maddon said. "It's good for baseball. I want to believe it's going to bring out the best in us too.

"It's been an up-and-down season, no question, but the battle-testedness from the last couple seasons should help us right now."

Maddon wants to see his club more consistently win series. The Cubs (65-57) go for the series sweep against the Blue Jays (59-64) on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

After finishing the first half of the season 43-45 and trailing the first-place Brewers by 5 1/2 games, the defending World Series champions have gone 22-12 after the All-Star break.

"It's that time of the year -- sink or swim now," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "We just have to keep going and keep playing good baseball, and I think we are."

With catcher Willson Contreras on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, the Cubs claimed catcher Rene Rivera off waivers from the New York Mets on Saturday. He is expected to join the team as soon as Sunday.

"He's a very good defensive player, very good reputation, and he's got some pop too," Maddon said. "That veteran presence, the depth it provides, is all good stuff."

Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks (4-4, 3.45 ERA) is scheduled to start Sunday. He threw six scoreless innings Tuesday against Cincinnati in his last start, tying his longest shutout outing of the season. He has faced Toronto once, giving up four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings on Sept. 10, 2004.

"That game was one of my better ones because I got stronger in those later innings," Hendricks said. "My last three innings felt much better, much more under control. Getting stronger as the game goes is always a good sign."

For Toronto, right-hander Marco Estrada (5-8, 5.09 ERA) will take the mound. He allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings against Tampa Bay for his shortest outing since June 30. Estrada is 6-1 with a 3.62 ERA in 17 career appearances, including nine starts, against the Cubs.

Estrada was claimed on revocable waivers by an undisclosed team last week, according to MLB.com, but ended up staying with Toronto.

"I felt OK," Estrada told MLB.com after his last start. "I did make some good pitches, and they just found a way against me. It's just one of those teams that has my number and I haven't been able to figure them out."

Toronto leads the all-time series against Chicago 8-6.

"We've been fortunate to have over the last couple years our fans travel well," Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar said. "This is possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them as well, seeing their team play at Wrigley Field against the defending World Series champs. It is an electric atmosphere to play in."

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