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Cubs 1, Reds 0: Jon Lester and his merry bullpen band

Cubs pitching was outstanding Saturday, and they got just enough offense to win.

Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Seriously, can you take two more weeks of this pennant race? (And then hopefully four weeks just like it in October?)

The Cubs won their third in a row, 1-0 over the Reds Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field. It was their third straight one-run game, too, and their fifth decision by one run over their last seven games going back to the second game of the doubleheader at Washington last Saturday.

And when Joe Maddon said he was going to use his bullpen depending on the situation, he wasn’t joking. He used three relievers to close out the Reds in the ninth. Who knows? Maybe this is a new way to look at ninth-inning bullpen work.

Now let’s rewind to the beginning. Jon Lester was outstanding through his entire seven-inning stint. He allowed two singles and a pair of walks, striking out nine. Just two Reds runners got past first base, Jose Peraza getting to third with two out in the first and Billy Hamilton to second after a walk and steal in the sixth, and then Willson Contreras threw him out trying to steal third [VIDEO].

Hamilton was called safe on the field, but it was pretty obvious this was going to review, and it didn’t take long for the review crew to overturn the call. After that Lester struck out Peraza to end the inning.

Cody Reed, who the Cubs had knocked around previously, was just as good as Lester, if not a bit better. He struck out 10 over five innings. The Cubs got a couple of runners on base in the second, but Lester struck out to end that inning, and again had two on with one out in the fourth, but a pair of K’s ended that frame as well.

Finally, after Reed departed for a pinch-hitter, the Cubs broke through against Reds reliever Sal Romano. Javier Baez led off the sixth with a single, advanced to second on a dribbler by David Bote that served, effectively, as a sacrifice even though it wasn’t a bunt, and one out later Contreras drove him in [VIDEO].

Lester came out for the seventh at 95 pitches, and despite the fact that it was a pleasant day with low humidity, he seemed as if he were on fumes. He walked Joey Votto leading off the inning, then ran the count full on Eugenio Suarez before striking him out.

At last, on Lester’s 108th pitch of the afternoon, Phillip Erwin hit into a double play to get Lester out of the inning, seven outstanding innings when the Cubs needed them most.

The Cubs went down 1-2-3 in the seventh, and then it was up to Justin Wilson to get through the eighth. Dilson Herrera placed a beautiful bunt for a one-out single, but Wilson struck out pinch-hitter Scott Schebler and got another pinch-hitter, Curt Casali, to pop to Baez to end the inning. I noticed that Wilson’s velocity was sitting at 93-94 early in the inning, but bumped up to 95-96 as he went along. Could this be intentional? Saving his better stuff for later in innings?

Again the Cubs went down 1-2-3 in the eighth.

Jesse Chavez entered to throw the ninth. The Cubs marketing department has been doing overtime making intro videos for relievers, because now Chavez has his own intro video for closing. He got pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett on one pitch, a fly to left. Then Peraza singled.

That brought Joe Maddon out, to bring in Randy Rosario to face Votto.

And Votto sailed a ball to deep left-center that at first looked like it might leave the yard, but it died on the warning track into Albert Almora Jr.’s glove.

And that brought Joe out again, because he wasn’t about to let Rosario face Suarez. That job was up to Steve Cishek, and the PA system had barely finished playing Cishek’s walkup music when he got Suarez to ground right to David Bote to end it [VIDEO] on his first pitch, another tense, well-played, satisfying win.

Whew! As I said... how much more of this can you take? This is pennant-race baseball. It appeared as if almost no one had left Wrigley Field by the ninth inning, and can you blame them? This is what we have dreamed of for years, meaningful games in September, and they don’t get much more meaningful than this.

The Cubs now have matched their season high at 26 games over .500 (87-61), and, pending the Brewers/Pirates game going on at the time of this post, lead Milwaukee by two games. The elimination number for the Brewers dropped to 13, and with the Cardinals being blown out by the Dodgers 17-4, the elimination umber for St. Louis for the division title is now 8. Incidentally, with that win the Dodgers take over the second wild-card spot and also are tied for the N.L. West lead.

A few fun facts about this game before I wrap things up:

That last one is important. Offense seems down this year, and the number of 1-0 games is an indicator. Cubs pitching has been outstanding lately, and with the offense struggling, it’s had to be. All the pitchers have risen to the occasion. Give credit to the Reds pitchers Saturday afternoon, but soon, Cubs hitters are going to have to break through. Kris Bryant looked particularly bad in this one, striking out four times. It was his first four-K nine-inning game since 2015 (he struck out four times, but in eight at-bats, in the 14-inning win over the Mets last June).

The good news is that Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Brandon Morrow all seem pretty close to returning and all could be playing by the Arizona series on Monday. That would bring a real boost to the offense, defense and bullpen.

The Cubs go for the sweep of the Reds Sunday with Jose Quintana on the mound against Luis Castillo. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage Sunday is on ABC7 Chicago.