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Cubs 3, Reds 0: Millsy!

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Or: Still think the Cubs should have kept Nick Castellanos?

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Alec Mills, in his brief Cubs career, has shown flashes of brilliance.

Tuesday night, we saw more of those flashes as Mills threw six excellent shutout innings and, with three relievers, combined on a five-hit, 3-0 shutout of the Reds Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field.

Mills had a quick first inning and, though he allowed two baserunners in the second, ended that inning by striking out Jose Garcia.

Then the Cubs offense got to work, with a little help from our old buddy Nick Castellanos.

With one out in the bottom of the second, Kyle Schwarber walked and Willson Contreras singled. One out later, David Bote came to the plate [VIDEO].

Castellanos misplayed the ball and then appeared to make a second mistake. The ball disappeared from view briefly. Most outfielders would have put their hands up and the umpires then likely rule the hit a double. Only one run would have scored on the play in that case. But he didn’t, and Bote’s triple gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

One inning later, Castellanos was in the center of activity again. Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch with one out and after Anthony Rizzo flied to center, it was Javier Baez’ turn to hit a ball Nick’s way [VIDEO].

Now, no right fielder’s going to catch that ball, but you can see Castellanos misplay the ball again, allowing Javy to hit his first triple of the year. Bryant scored to make it 3-0.

I believe we would have seen this sort of thing over and over and over if Castellanos had been retained by the Cubs — not errors per se, but missed plays that other right fielders (particularly Jason Heyward, who would have had to move to center if Castellanos would have stayed) would make as a matter of routine.

Also, the only way keeping Nick would have made any sense is if they had then traded Kyle Schwarber. Or Ian Happ — and then the Cubs don’t get the magnificent season Happ is having. Beyond that, a contract of the size Castellanos got from the Reds — three years, $46 million, with a mutual $20 million option for 2023 — would have made the chances of keeping the Cubs’ core together even more remote than they currently seem.

Castellanos had a nice two months for the Cubs, but I agree with the decision to let him walk.

Back to the game: Mills put together his second-best start of the season (the only one better: seven shutout innings vs. the Royals August 3). He did allow four hit and three walks, but kept Reds hitters off balance most of the night and allowed only three of them past first base. As Ryan Dempster noted on the broadcast, Mills threw first-pitch strikes to the majority of Reds hitters and that’s always a good thing for a pitcher like Mills who doesn’t blow hitters away with 95+ velocity. It’s very much like the way Kyle Hendricks pitches, and Mills’ style is similar — he’s been dubbed by some “The Adjunct Professor,” and I hope “Millsy” keeps taking lessons from The Professor, Hendricks.

Here’s a chart of how Mills threw to hitters Tuesday evening:

And his teammate Duane Underwood Jr., who threw a scoreless seventh, sang Mills’ praises:

It would be great if Mills kept this rhythm going. At this time the Cubs don’t have a reliable third starter who’s healthy, and an effective Mills could be a secret weapon in the postseason.

Ryan Tepera threw a scoreless eighth and Jeremy Jeffress allowed one single in a scoreless ninth to post his sixth save. For now, says David Ross, Jeffress is the Cubs’ closer:

That was a nice way to begin this three-game series. The Cardinals split their doubleheader with the Twins, so the Cubs lead them by three games in the NL Central. The Brewers, who lost Tuesday, are 5½ back and the Reds now trail by 6½ games. St. Louis will have Wednesday off before playing another doubleheader Thursday against the Tigers. For those keeping track of the Cubs’ various magic numbers:

The Cubs go for two straight over Cincinnati and three straight overall Tuesday evening. Yu Darvish will start for the Cubs and Trevor Bauer goes for the Reds. Game time is again 7:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.


SITE NOTE: Ashley MacLennan is under the weather. Outside The Confines will resume on Friday.