The Cubs hit three homers in this slugfest in Great American Ball Park, including a grand slam by Willson Contreras, and won their fourth in a row. The win improved their record to 10-7, and they led the N.L. Central by 1½ games over the Reds.
This year, they’re off to a good start on matching that. They’ve hit six home runs in the first two games against the Reds this year. Three of those baseballs left the yard at Great American Ball Park on Saturday as the Cubs cruised to a 12-8 win, their fourth consecutive victory.
The first home run was hit by Anthony Rizzo, a three-run shot in the first inning, his second three-run homer in as many days:
That came after Reds starter Cody Reed couldn’t throw strikes. He walked the first two hitters he faced, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant. Sometimes when pitchers don’t have control or command, they start aiming pitches. Rizzo took one of those aimed fastballs deep.
Jake Arrieta, thus staked to a 3-0 lead, gave it right back when Joey Votto homered in the bottom of the first. That wasn’t all Jake’s fault, as what looked like a sure double-play ball was thrown away by Javier Baez in a rare error. Then Jake served up another home run in the inning, a solo shot by Eugenio Suarez, and in an inning that took more than 30 minutes to complete, the Reds had a 4-3 lead.
That lead did not last long. Bryant doubled off Reed in the second and again Reed lost command, loading the bases by walking Rizzo and Addison Russell.
That brought Willson Contreras to the plate. He hit a no-doubt-about-it homer [VIDEO], the first grand slam of his career.
Contreras also singled and doubled, his first three-hit game of the season.
The Cubs thus had a 7-4 lead they would not relinquish. After his rough first inning, Jake settled down and made it through the sixth, allowing just five more hits and one run with eight strikeouts. Especially important: he didn’t walk anyone. That’s something that was a problem with him much of 2016. Jake threw 101 pitches (67 strikes) and has issued just five walks this year in 24⅔ innings, with 29 strikeouts. Both of those are good rates (1.8 walks/nine innings, 10.6 strikeouts/nine innings).
The Cubs led 8-5 in the sixth with two runners on and two out when Jason Heyward came to the plate.
Heyward’s three-run homer [VIDEO] was really squared up well. A couple of interesting notes on J-Hey’s second homer of the season (and second in as many days):
- He didn’t hit his second home run last year until June 2, the Cubs’ 52nd game of 2016
- He didn’t hit a three-run homer all of last year
Both of those are good signs that Heyward’s new approach is working. He also made a nice diving catch in right field and doubled Suarez off first base [VIDEO] in the third inning.
And, he hit a sharp grounder toward second (as opposed to the weak ones he hit last year) that got through in the eighth to drive in his fourth run of the afternoon.
Suarez homered for the second time in the game in the eighth inning, this one off Justin Grimm, to cut the lead to five. After Grimm allowed a double to Zack Cozart (that was reviewed because it hit high off the wall, nearly a home run), Joe replaced him with Carl Edwards Jr. That was the only discordant note in this game, another poor outing from Grimm, who’s allowed three home runs this year in just 7⅔ innings. That has to be concerning.
Brian Duensing gave up a pair of runs in the ninth after retiring the first two hitters. This has to be a bit concerning as he required 23 pitches to finish things off.
I’m going to put the Cubs back on the walk watch, because their eight free passes Saturday put them in the National League lead (pending Saturday night’s action). They now have 69 walks for the year in 17 games. That’s 4.93 walks per game, or a pace for 798 this year. Most likely, the Cubs will not sustain that pace all year, but this shows the team hasn’t lost its patience or ability to draw bases on balls. The more the merrier.
Sunday afternoon, the Cubs go for their first series sweep of 2017. John Lackey will throw for the Cubs and Bronson Arroyo for the Reds.