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Cubs 6, Reds 1: Jon Lester Does It All

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The Cubs lefthander pitched and hit (yes, hit!) his team to victory.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Lester threw seven strong innings (six hits, one run, no walks, five strikeouts) against the Reds Tuesday night.

For the second time in his career (the first, also against the Reds last September) he reached base twice in one game, on a double and a walk. Oh, about that double:

Here’s another look:

If the wind had been blowing out as it was on Monday, that would have been a home run. As it was, it drove in David Ross (from first base!) with the Cubs’ first run of the game.

Later in the game, Lester got hit on his right wrist by a line drive off the bat of Joey Votto. About that:

Lester stayed in the game, and the Cubs had their way with several miscellaneous Reds pitchers in a 6-1 win. Combined with the Nationals’ 1-0 loss to the Marlins, that reduced the Cubs’ magic number to clinch the N.L.’s best record to three. (Incidentally, when Wrigley Field opened, the Nats/Marlins game was not posted on the center-field scoreboard; instead, a meaningless Pirates/Brewers game was. Not long after game time, the scoreboard operators took down the Pittsburgh/Milwaukee game and posted the Washington/Miami score.)

Lester got some defensive help early from Kris Bryant, who made this nice diving catch [VIDEO] on a sinking line drive hit by Brandon Phillips.

The Cubs broke the game open in the fourth inning. Jason Heyward led off with a walk, and after a pair of ground outs, Lester also walked. The next three Cubs all got hits: Dexter Fowler singled, Bryant doubled (both driving in runs), and Anthony Rizzo’s single plated a pair, the Cubs taking a 5-1 lead off Reds reliever Wandy Peralta. After Josh Smith, another reliever making his first start of the year, was removed after three innings, the game had a spring-training feel from Reds manager Bryan Price, who put in a parade of relief pitchers, mostly with uniform numbers in the 60s and 70s.

The Cubs got one last run in the sixth when Fowler walked, stole second and scored on a single by Rizzo.

Cubs relievers finished up the game without incident. Carl Edwards Jr. allowed a walk and a hit in a scoreless eighth. Trevor Cahill issued a leadoff walk in the ninth, but got Ramon Cabrera to hit into a double play. Then Joe Maddon brought Travis Wood into the game. Normally I’d say “Why bother?” if a manager brings in a pitcher for the platoon advantage with a five-run lead, nobody on, and two out in the ninth, but in this case I completely get what Joe was doing. He had said a few days ago that he was going to start using relievers in situations they might face in the postseason. In this case a lefthanded pinch-hitter (Hernan Iribarren) was sent up to face Cahill, so Joe brought in Wood, which led Price to send up a righty hitter (Eugenio Suarez) to face Wood. This is exactly the kind of thing teams might do in October. Wood got Suarez, who’s a pretty good hitter, to ground to short to end it.

I’d expect to see more of that over the season’s last 11 games, particularly after the Cubs clinch the league’s best record, which could happen by Friday. In fact, according to this Tribune article, we will very likely see a Cubs bullpen game next week:

The Cubs' plans will involve one game against the Pirates in which relievers will be used exclusively.

That means that left-hander Mike Montgomery won't make any more starts, but Maddon would like to use Montgomery in a relief role to see how he responds to warming up during games rather than beforehand as was required for his five starts in late August.

Montgomery said last week he would have no issues getting acclimated to a relief role after performing most of those duties before his July 20 trade from the Mariners.

All of this makes sense as the Cubs try to give meaningless games some meaning.

This win was the Cubs’ 96th. One more will match the 2008 and 2015 teams for the most wins since the last pennant year, 1945. If the Cubs win and the Nats lose Wednesday night, the Cubs could clinch the league’s best record Friday afternoon against the Cardinals.

Cubs walk watch: after a slow period in which they’d walked just four times over the last three games, the Cubs had six free passes Tuesday night. That makes 604 for the season, or exactly four per game. They need 47 more walks in the remaining 11 games to break the team record (650, set in 1975).

They’ll go for the sweep of the Reds Wednesday evening with John Lackey facing Robert Stephenson.