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Reds 7, Cubs 4: Not Quite Enough For 20

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Jon Lester grinded through five innings in an attempt at his 20th win, but fell short.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Cubs tried really hard to get Jon Lester his 20th win Saturday afternoon, to the point where they left him in to throw 111 pitches, third-most he’d thrown in any game this year.

But Lester just didn’t have command, and when he did put pitches in the zone, the Reds hit him hard. The Cubs couldn’t score enough off four Reds pitchers, and thus the result was a 7-4 loss, evening up this regular season-ending series at one win each. The Cubs had won four straight against the Reds, going back to last week at Wrigley, and also had won their last four games in Cincinnati.

Plate umpire Tom Hallion’s strike zone didn’t help Lester much; at one point, where he (and the rest of the team, who were walking off the field, and pretty much everyone watching on TV) thought he’d gotten a called third strike, TV cameras caught Lester saying “Are you kidding me?” to Hallion. Or maybe some more colorful language, perhaps.

The loss prevented Lester from becoming the first Cubs lefthander with 20 wins in a season since Dick Ellsworth in 1963, but he did get himself into an exclusive club which Ellsworth leads:

This was, I believe, Lester’s best overall season (not by bWAR, though — he came into this game at 5.6 bWAR, just short of two seasons in Boston (2008 and 2009) when he was over 6 bWAR. He’ll get some Cy Young consideration, though he likely won’t win it. The game broke a nine-game winning streak for Lester and we can only assume it’ll be a one-off, and he’ll be ready for the first game of the Division Series Friday at Wrigley Field.

I think we’re all assuming the rotation will go Lester, Kyle Hendricks (who starts Sunday and likely goes five innings or so), Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, but management’s probably waiting until they find out who they’re going to play to make a commitment.

Lester also singled in this game, so he finishes the season hitting .102, a significant improvement over the .065 he hit in 2015 in his first full year as a N.L. pitcher. He had three doubles among his six hits and drove in six runs, including the walkoff bunt against the Mariners July 31. Somehow, this might become significant in the N.L. playoffs.

Of note in this game: Dexter Fowler had a pair of hits, giving him 1,000 for his career. Here’s the 1,000th hit [VIDEO]. Congrats to Dex, and here’s hoping for a big postseason for him.

Ben Zobrist, who’s getting to be a hot hitter at just the right time, homered in the eighth inning, his third home run in the last two days, and 18th of the season. It gave him 76 RBI, third-best for his career. The Zobrist signing hasn’t gotten that much attention behind other free-agent signings the Cubs have made, but it might be the best one they made this past offseason.

The only real down note in this game was Hector Rondon’s seventh-inning appearance. He gave up three hits, including a pair of doubles, and two runs. He hasn’t looked all that sharp since his return from the DL and I sure hope he gets back to his previous form for the division series.

On the walk watch: Three walks Saturday give the Cubs 647 for the season. If they draw four walks Sunday, they will break the franchise record, which has stood since 1975.

On the run watch: The Cubs passed the 800-run mark with four runs, giving them 801 for the year. This is just the third time since 1937 that any Cubs team has scored 800 or more runs in a season (806 in 1970, 855 in 2008).

Now, to a bit of playoff talk. The Mets won Saturday, so they clinched both a wild-card spot and the right to host the N.L. wild-card game on Wednesday. The Giants and Cardinals also won Saturday — the Giants defeating Clayton Kershaw -- so if the Giants win Sunday, they’ll head to New York to play the Mets. The Cardinals’ only way in is if they win and the Giants lose. If that happens, the Giants and Cardinals will play a tiebreaker game Monday in St. Louis. (The Giants, incidentally, took just 2:15 to dispatch Kershaw, while the Cubs and Reds barely finished five innings in that much time. Not complaining about the length of the Cubs game, just noting that it seemed pretty draggy at times.)

The Nationals also won Saturday, so they clinched home field in their division series against the Dodgers. That could be important, as the Nats are banged up and have played better at home than on the road, and the Dodgers have a losing record away from Dodger Stadium.

So there are two N.L. teams with a lot at stake Sunday. The Cubs, meanwhile, will play out the string Sunday afternoon against the Reds in Cincinnati, then take a well-deserved four days off until the division series begins Friday at Wrigley Field. Talk is that there will be a sim game Tuesday at Wrigley, in which both Lackey and Jason Hammel will pitch. Honestly? They could probably sell 40,000 tickets to that, but it’ll be closed to everyone except probably a few reporters.

I watched Saturday’s game at a housewarming party thrown by a couple of ballpark friends. Thanks to Jeff for the loan of the laptop so I could write this recap.

Sunday in Cincinnati at 2:10 p.m. CT, Kyle Hendricks gets his final pre-playoff tuneup (likely five innings) against Robert Stephenson of the Reds.