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Cubs 12, Reds 5: One down, nine to go

The Cubs began their road trip on a high note.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

On May 22, the Cubs defeated the Phillies 8-4 to get to a season-high 11 games over .500.

Five previous times since then, an attempt to get back to that level failed.

Thursday night in Cincinnati, the Cubs at last succeeded in returning to that high point of the season, and did so emphatically with a 12-5 blowout win over the Reds. They also reached a high point in the N.L. Central race at 3½ games ahead. In fact, that’s the largest lead anyone has had in the N.L. Central this year.

Cubs bats wasted no time in getting on the board. Nicholas Castellanos singled with one out in the first and Kris Bryant walked. Anthony Rizzo was the next hitter [VIDEO].

Rizzo’s double gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead, but they could not score again in that inning.

The Reds tied the game on a pair of doubles in the bottom of the first, and in the third, the Cubs started hitting again. Castellanos has been a doubles machine since he came to Chicago, but this ball went farther [VIDEO].

That was only the start of a big inning. Bryant and Rizzo followed with singles, and Javier Baez was next [VIDEO].

That made it 3-1 Cubs, and Ian Happ soon made it 5-1 [VIDEO].

The lead, unfortunately, didn’t last long. Cole Hamels just didn’t have it in this game. I’m not sure exactly what was off for him. His velocity seemed OK, his command wasn’t bad, it’s just that the Reds were sizing up his pitches and hitting them a long way. They had scored three runs and loaded the bases with two out when catcher’s interference was called on Jonathan Lucroy, who was making his first start as a Cub. That tied the game and put Lucroy in a club he probably would rather not have joined:

The next at-bat was the biggest of the game. Joey Votto batted against a clearly tiring Hamels with the bases loaded and two out. Votto isn’t having a great year, but is still a dangerous hitter. It was clear that Hamels was out of the game after that plate appearance, and Hamels rose to the occasion by striking out Votto to end the inning with the game still tied.

The Cubs took the lead back in the fourth, courtesy of Castellanos [VIDEO].

That hit put Castellanos in a very exclusive club:

Castellanos as a Cub: .424/.457/.879 (14-for-33) with six doubles and three home runs.

In the fifth, Baez led off with a single, and two outs later, Lucroy posted his first Cubs RBI [VIDEO].

While the Cubs were extending their lead to 7-5, Tyler Chatwood was holding the Reds down. He threw three outstanding innings, allowing one hit and one walk and striking out six. He was consistently at 96 or 97 miles per hour with his fastball. He’s got his season walk rate down to 4.5 per nine innings, below his career number of 4.7, and that fastball has good location and movement. This is the third time this season Chatwood has put together a solid relief outing like this of three or more innings.

That set the stage for the Cubs to blow the game open in the seventh. Albert Almora Jr. led off with a single, and then it was Happ’s turn to go deep [VIDEO].

Happ loves hitting in Great American Ball Park, in the city where he played his college ball (University of Cincinnati). Lifetime in GABP for Happ: .404/.563/.894 (19-for-47) with three doubles, a triple, six home runs, 12 runs scored and 17 (!) walks. You can bet Happ’s going to get more playing time in this series.

That wasn’t it for the Cubs in that inning, either. A pair of walks sandwiched around a force out and a wild pitch put runners on second and third for Bryant [VIDEO].

That little dribbler eluded Jose Peraza and went for a two-run single, making it 11-5. The Cubs put one final run on the board in the eighth. Almora singled with one out, went to second on a passed ball, and scored on another RBI hit by Lucroy [VIDEO].

Lucroy went 3-for-5 with two RBI and looked like the Lucroy who used to pound Cubs pitching as a Brewer. He’s already got three more hits than Martin Maldonado had as a Cub. (Thanks, Josh, for the reminder!)

Duane Underwood Jr. and Kyle Ryan finished up with scoreless relief appearances, but not before Javy gave us some entertainment [VIDEO].

Reds infielder/catcher Kyle Farmer was pitching at that point, throwing batting-practice style balls at speeds that weren’t even noted in the play-by-play, so Javy decided to have some fun. As noted by Len Kasper on the broadcast, Baez does everything lefthanded except play baseball, and he has taken lefty swings in batting practice from time to time. He managed a fly ball to medium center field as he fell to his knees. Good times.

Here’s Javy (and Joe Maddon) on his lefthanded at-bat [VIDEO].

Anyway, the complaint department is closed and locked after this one. Good pitching (except for Hamels, who I think will be fine for his next start), timely hitting (a season-high 19 hits) and a power display. These are the kinds of games the Cubs played in GABP from 2015-18, and hopefully there will be more this weekend.

The Cubs will go for two in a row over the Reds and three straight wins overall Friday evening. Yu Darvish will start for the Cubs and Trevor Bauer, recently acquired from the Indians, will make his second Cincinnati start. Game time is again 6:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.