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Cubs 8, Reds 1: Now that’s more like it

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The Cubs got timely hitting and solid pitching and took the first game in Cincinnati.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Rain delayed the start of Friday night’s Cubs/Reds game in Cincinnati by more than an hour and a half, and once it did begin, Cubs batters began raining hits on Reds pitching.

The first five Cubs hit safely; by the time an out was recorded by Homer Bailey in the top of the first, three Cubs runs had scored and they were well on their way to an 8-1 win over the Reds.

RBI hits in the first inning went to Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and Addison Russell. Russell wound up with a 4-for-4 evening and also walked once. (Still think the Cubs “need” to trade for Manny Machado? I don’t.) Fun Russell fact:

Here are all four Russell hits [VIDEO].

Russell's four-hit game

Cubs win! Jon Lester was stellar over six innings and Addison Russell tied a career high with four hits as the #Cubs won the opener in Cincinnati! #EverybodyIn

Posted by Chicago Cubs on Friday, May 18, 2018

Another Cubs run scored when Javier Baez hit into a double play with the bases loaded and nobody out in the third. That’s not an optimal result from Javy, who was only 1-for-5 on the evening. I say “only” because he, Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber were the only starting Cubs position players with just one hit, and Happ can’t really be blamed because the Reds intentionally walked him three times.

The Cubs plated another pair of runs in the fifth, one on an RBI double by Schwarber, the other on a perfectly-executed safety squeeze by Jon Lester. On the TV broadcast, Jim Deshaies said that Lester might be the best bunter in baseball right now, and I can’t really argue with that. Give Lester a ton of credit for working hard on this, because that was definitely not the case three years ago when he first came to the Cubs.

Lester also was mowing down Reds hitters while all this Cubs offense was going on. He retired nine of the first 10 he faced, with a two-out walk in the first inning the only blemish on that. Scooter Gennett led off the fourth with a sharp single, ending any thought of a no-hitter, and in the fifth Adam Duvall smashed a home run off Lester.

But those were the only two hits he allowed in six strong innings. Lester struck out eight, and over his last six starts: 1.77 ERA, 1.033 WHIP in 35⅔ innings, averaging almost six per outing.

The rest of the staff nearly matched Lester. Justin Wilson, Justin Hancock and Mike Montgomery threw one scoreless inning each. Wilson and Hancock each walked one hitter, but none allowed a hit, and Wilson struck out the side. Slowly but surely, Wilson has begun to look like the guy the Cubs traded for last summer. This month for Wilson: eight appearances, 7⅔ innings, three hits, two walks, eight strikeouts, no runs allowed. In addition to the (obvious) 0.00 ERA in May, that’s a 0.652 WHIP. You can be sure that Joe Maddon would love to use Wilson in more high-leverage situations and maybe he can now. Wilson has certainly cut down on the walks, a big issue for him last year. His overall walk rate this year is 6.8 per nine innings, but in May it’s much better, just 2.3 per nine. That’s really encouraging.

So it was both this excellent pitching and solid hitting that brought the Cubs this win. The 15-hit attack not only included Russell’s 4-for-4 day, but three hits from Contreras and two each by Rizzo and Bryant.

The Cubs still haven’t homered on this road trip, but have won two of the three games anyway. About that, and this game:

The Cubs remained two games out of first place in the N.L. Central, as three of the four contenders won (the Pirates were defeated by the Padres). All four teams — Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals, Brewers — now have 18 losses, and the Cubs have played the fewest games among the four (41; the Brewers have the most games played, 45), obviously mostly due to all the rainouts.

The Cubs will pick up one of those games Saturday, as they play a split doubleheader against the Reds. Guess what? There’s a chance of rain again!

Weather permitting, Kyle Hendricks will pitch against Luis Castillo in the day game, which begins at 12:10 p.m. CT. Then Jose Quintana and Sal Romano will face each other in the night game at 6:10 p.m. CT. Both games Saturday will be televised on WGN. The game preview for the day game will post at 10:30 a.m. CT, and there will be a recap posted here shortly after that game ends.