Cubs Record: 97-55 (1st in NL Central)
W: John Lackey (10-8, 3.39)
L: Robert Stephenson (2-2, 5.59)
MVP: John Lackey
The Cubs opened up the scoring in this one with a couple of 1st inning runs off Reds starter Robert Stephenson. Dexter Fowler reached on a hit by pitch to start the inning and Anthony Rizzo added a one-out infield single, putting runners at the corners for Ben Zobrist. The Chicago second baseman hit a single to left to drive in Fowler and Javy Baez followed that up with an infield hit to bring home Rizzo, making it 2-0.
The Reds wasted little time in responding. A one-out Scott Schebler single in the top of the 2nd was followed by a Steve Selsky double, knocking in Schebler and cutting the lead to 2-1. Jose Peraza tied things up one out later with a single to left to make it 2-all.
Chicago would regain the lead in the bottom of the 3rd. A Zobrist walk and Baez single set the stage for Miguel Montero, who answered with a line drive to left, bringing home Zobrist to give the Cubs a one-run lead. A Fowler solo home run in the 4th made it 4-2 and a 5th-inning Cincinnati balk with a runner at third pushed it to a 5-2 advantage.
Not content to keep it a save situation, the Chicago offense continued to add on. Zobrist singled with one out in the 6th and moved to second on a Jason Heyward walk. After a Baez grounder advanced the runners, Montero came through yet again, this time with a two-run single, giving the Cubs a 7-2 lead.
After Fowler singled with one out in the 7th, Kris Bryant realized he had yet to punish Reds pitching in the game and promptly crushed a two-run shot deep into the left field bleachers, making it 9-2.
Hector Rondon, Mike Montgomery, and Joe Smith combined to shut out the Reds over the final two innings, as the Cubs took game three to sweep the series and equal their win total from last season.
John Lackey was very good Wednesday night, allowing two earned runs on 5 hits, a walk, and 4 strikeouts over 7 strong innings. While he was hit hard in the first couple of innings, the veteran right-hander eventually settled down to allow just one baserunner (a 3rd-inning Joey Votto double) over his final five frames. His performance was good enough to give him his 10th victory of the season, joining Jon Lester (18), Jake Arrieta (17), Kyle Hendricks (15) and Jason Hammel (15) as Cubs starters with double-digit wins.
If the Cubs’ coaching staff was worried about how his stint on the disabled list would affect Lackey, they can probably relax a bit. In his four starts since returning from the DL, Lackey has a 3.24 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 21 strikeouts over 25 innings. Solid.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Chicago offense. The approach was outstanding Wednesday night, as Cubs hitters saw 182 pitches over 8 innings. They were particularly effective against Stephenson, against whom they saw 98 pitches over just 3 2/3 innings. Oh yeah, they also pounded out 8 hits, 2 walks and 4 runs over that same period.
Uh…Zobrist’s throwing error in the 1st? I’m kind of at a loss here as there really wasn’t anything to complain about in this one.
Statistically speaking, the Reds have one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball and that proved accurate in Wednesday’s game. Aside from the high pitch count I mentioned above, Cincinnati allowed 9 earned runs on 15 hits and 5 walks in 8 innings. That’s 20 baserunners over the course of 24 outs, hardly what one would call a recipe for success.
The Cubs have Thursday off before taking on the Cardinals Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field in the opener of a three-game set. Arrieta (17-7, 2.96) will take the mound for Chicago as he looks to right the ship before the playoffs. St. Louis will counter with righty Mike Leake (9-10, 4.54). First pitch is set for 1:20 p.m. (CST).