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2017 Cubs victories revisited, August 23: Cubs 9, Reds 3

Mike Montgomery had a big game on this day.

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Cubs won their fifth in a row and improved to 11 games over .500 at 68-57. They also had their biggest division lead of the year at 3½ games.

I think I’m going to be a bit sad when the Cubs’ current series against the Reds is over.

The Cubs are doing to the Reds what good teams are supposed to do to bad teams: crush them. (Ninth-inning consolation home runs given up notwithstanding.)

Cubs hitters put together a 10-hit, six-walk, two-homer attack and Mike Montgomery threw six excellent innings and the team won its fifth straight game, 9-3 over the Reds. The Cubs are now 10-5 vs. the Reds this year and have outscored them 112-85.

They wasted no time starting the scoring in this one. A single and two walks loaded the bases with one out in the first inning. Tommy La Stella then drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 1-0, and then it was Jason Heyward’s turn:

Heyward had two hits and two RBI in this game and since August 6 is hitting .340/.426/.383 (16-for-47) with five RBI, six walks and 10 runs scored. Heyward’s second hit made it 4-0 in the third after Anthony Rizzo had doubled.

It wasn’t all offense and pitching in this game, either. Look at yet another outstanding defensive play by Javier Baez with two on and one out in the bottom of the third:

How does he even do that? Javy seems to have stepped up his game since he’s become the everyday shortstop while Addison Russell is out. Even when Russell returns, Javy will certainly see time at short, as well as second and third:

As Addison Russell gets closer to rejoining the Cubs, manager Joe Maddon won't stop using Javier Baez at shortstop.

"You're still going to see Javy over there as we readjust Addison back into it," Maddon said. "You're going to see Javy at second, you're going to see Javy at third to give (Kris Bryant) a day off, which will be nice. Addi will play, but Javy will still play a lot."

The Cubs blew this game open in the fourth. Montgomery and Jon Jay singled, and then it was Kyle Schwarber’s turn:

Kyle’s 21st homer was reviewed, but you can clearly see it hitting over the top of the wall. That made it 7-0. Reds starter Asher Wojciechowski got the next two hitters, but then allowed a single to Alex Avila. That was it for Asher, and Reds manager Bryan Price called on Alejandro Chacin, who was making his major-league debut.

Chacin’s fifth big-league pitch was sent over the wall by La Stella:

It was TLS’ third home run of the season. His homers don’t go very far:

Nevertheless, they count just the same as homers that go 100 feet farther. TLS has been a very valuable bench player this year. He’s been outstanding as a pinch-hitter, going 7-for-21 (.333) with seven walks and two HBP for a .533 OBP off the bench, and has been capable as a substitute at second base and third base, where he was playing in place of the banged-up Kris Bryant Wednesday night. He’ll be well worth having on this year’s postseason roster.

The home run made it 9-0, and the “0” was because Montgomery was cruising. In his six innings he allowed four singles and a walk, struck out four and got 11 outs on ground balls, which is Montgomery at his best. This was his best start of the season, and he probably could have gone further, but at 89 pitches and with a 9-0 lead and his batting-order spot coming up, Joe Maddon decided to give him the rest of the night off after a job well done. I’ve said before that I think Montgomery is better out of the bullpen (and the numbers back that up so far this year), but if he can keep throwing like this, the Cubs might have one of the starters they’re going to need in 2018. In any case, he more than capably filled in for Jon Lester, who’s likely going to miss at least one more start.

After Montgomery was lifted, Joe turned to Justin Wilson again. This was the perfect spot for Wilson to throw to get some confidence back: a nine-run lead in the late innings. And he did come through, with a 1-2-3 inning. It wasn’t a great 1-2-3 inning, as he ran full counts on the first two hitters he faced and two of the outs were on well-struck balls that were hit right to Cubs fielders, but still, he got the outs. Baby steps back toward effectiveness.

Koji Uehara threw a 1-2-3 eighth with a pair of strikeouts.

And then, Hector Rondon must have been told it was time to throw live batting practice. Yikes. Three home runs? That’s the second time in a week that Hector has allowed multiple homers in a game to the Reds, five in all, half of the homers he’s given up all year. I have to wonder if Hector is healthy; maybe he could benefit from a DL stint. That outing was awful.

But the game itself was just what the Cubs needed, to assert dominance over a team they absolutely should dominate. With the Brewers losing to the Giants just around the time this game started Wednesday evening, the Cubs increased their division lead over Milwaukee to 3½ games (and five ahead in the loss column). The Cardinals and Pirates both won Wednesday night, so they remain, respectively, 4½ and eight games behind. I’m sure you heard about the Pirates’ win, a walkoff homer by Josh Harrison in the 10th inning to break up a no-hitter by former Cub Rich Hill:

So the Pirates had a bit of a thrill at the expense of Rich Hill, but they’re still pretty far out of the division race. They will host the Dodgers again Thursday afternoon.

The Cubs, meanwhile, will go for the sweep of the Reds Thursday evening. Jake Arrieta will be on the mound for the Cubs against Cincinnati’s Sal Romano.