It’s a simple play, really, in baseball terms — catching the ball after a strikeout.
Reds catcher Luke Maile didn’t do that on a third strike to Nico Hoerner in the third inning. It would have ended the inning.
Instead, the Cubs’ next five batters all reached base and that produced a three-run inning that was the difference in the Cubs’ 5-3 win over the Reds, their third straight victory.
Let’s start at the beginning, because the Reds did. Elly De La Cruz hit Jameson Taillon’s first pitch into the bleachers, and you could have been forgiven if you said, “Uh-oh, here we go again,” after that pitch.
But the Cubs got that run back in the bottom of the inning. Hoerner doubled with one out and Ian Happ doubled him in [VIDEO].
Taillon was in trouble in both the second and third innings, but got out of both jams scoreless.
In the bottom of the third, the first two Cubs were routine outs.
The pitch bounced in and Nico swung and missed and easily reached first base.
That seemed to unhinge Reds starter Luke Weaver. He walked Happ on four pitches and Cody Bellinger’s single gave the Cubs the lead [VIDEO].
Weaver then walked Dansby Swanson to load the bases.
Yet another walk, the Cubs’ fourth of the inning, was drawn by Jeimer Candelario, making it 4-1 [VIDEO].
Weaver finally struck out Yan Gomes to end the inning. He’d thrown 27 pitches since the dropped third strike.
The Reds scored a run in the fourth on two singles and a double play to cut the Cubs’ lead to 4-2. Taillon threw a 1-2-3 fifth to complete his evening’s work, which, truth be told, didn’t look as good as the boxscore line (five innings, two runs, five strikeouts). He threw 92 pitches and put Reds runners in scoring position in every inning but the fifth. Nevertheless, it was good enough for Taillon to leave with the lead after a leadoff double in the sixth.
Mark Leiter Jr. entered and despite hitting a batter, ended the sixth without allowing a run, and he also recorded the first two outs in the seventh before Julian Merryweather finished off that inning with a strikeout.
Spencer Steer homered off Merryweather with one out in the seventh to make it 4-3. One out later, Adbert Alzolay was summoned and he finished off the inning with a fly to right.
While all this was going on, the Cubs bats had gone silent. Since Mike Tauchman hit a double in the fourth — and Nick Madrigal was thrown out at the plate — the Cubs had just one baserunner through the seventh, a two-out walk by Happ in that inning.
Then they scored an important insurance run in the eighth. Swanson led off with a double that bounced off the warning track into the bleachers, an unusual occurrence. One out later, Candelario singled Swanson to third, where he scored on this sac fly by Yan Gomes [VIDEO].
That left it to Alzolay to finish things off. He struck out the first two Reds hitters in the ninth and wrapped it on this line drive caught by Candelario [VIDEO].
Bell wasn’t wrong. The ball four calls looked correct, but some of the other calls in that inning — and elsewhere in the game — yikes, plate umpire Derek Thomas, you need some remedial work. The Cubs, of course, will take the walks and the win.
The Cubs victory and the Brewers’ 14-1 crushing of the Pirates put Milwaukee in first place, and the Cubs trail them by 2½ games (two in the loss column). The Cubs are also two games behind the third wild-card spot. The Reds came in to Wrigley Field having won nine of 12 and the Cubs simply disposed of them after a close loss Monday, winning three straight, two by blowout. The Cubs outscored the Reds 46-24 in this series and exposed a Reds bullpen that, apart from their closer Alexis Diaz, clearly has some weak spots.
Fun fact about all the Cubs runs recently:
The @Cubs have scored 150 runs in their first 20 games since the All-Star break, tied for the second most since the All-Star Break first took place in 1933, behind the California Angels with 161 in 1995. pic.twitter.com/mbMfaxyzJb— OptaSTATS (@OptaSTATS) August 4, 2023
Now comes a bigger test for the Cubs, who are 30-17 since being swept by the Angels in early June (and the Cubs have also won 13 of their last 16). The Atlanta Braves, who have the best record in baseball at 69-37, come to Wrigley for a three-game series opening Friday afternoon. Over the span where the Cubs have put up that 13-3 mark in the last couple of weeks, the Braves are just 8-6, so perhaps the Cubs are playing them at the right time. Kyle Hendricks will take the mound for the Cubs Friday against Atlanta’s Max Fried, who will be making his first start after an IL stint that lasted almost three months. Game time Friday is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and MLB Network outside the Cubs and Braves market territories).