Chicago Cubs Sweep Series Against the Reds

Series Recap

Photo by Iowa Cubs via Flickr

The weather warmed up, the wind was blowing out, and the snoozing offense finally woke up from its slumber as the Chicago Cubs did some springtime cleaning with a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds.

The Cubs first sweep of the season improved their record to 5–1 against their division rivals, and 21–19 overall. The Cubs remain in third place in the division behind the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals respectively.

While this series will go down as the one that breathed life back into the offense, the Cubs starting staff was equally dominant even with a strong wind blowing out of the Friendly Confines during the entirety of the series.

In Game 1, John Lackey had one of his better starts of the season, pitching 5.1 innings and surrendering just three runs. Kyle Hendricks followed suit in the second game of the series, earning his second straight quality start in the Cubs 7–5 win. In the finale, Jon Lester also earned a quality start pitching six innings and giving up three runs.

In the last two weeks, Chicago Cubs starters have posted the eighth-best ERA in the MLB. The starting pitching is finally coming around which is good news for a team that is trying to find its groove after a slow start to the season.

The Cubs offense gave the Reds a taste of what opposing teams have been doing to the Cubs all season. The Cubs totaled eight runs in first innings of this series, and 16 total runs in the first three innings. They entered the fourth inning with leads in all three games.

The Cubs have now scored at least five runs in 25 of their last 27 contests against the Cincinnati Reds. They have averaged eight runs per game against the Reds this season. There is nothing like Red’s pitching to snap the Cubs out of a cold hitting streak.

Game 3: Chicago Cubs 9 Cincinnati Reds 5

When Jon Lester is pitching at home, an opposing team has a very small chance of winning the game. In four home starts this season, he has posted a 1.44 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

Give Lester a five-run cushion in the first inning of a home game, and the opposing team might as well forfeit and go home right then. Even on a day when Lester wasn’t quite as dominant as he has been at home this season.

That is exactly what the Cubs did to the Reds on Thursday afternoon. Three walks in the first inning, and a pop fly that was lost in the sun yielded a run before Javier Baez blasted a 415-foot grand slam on a hanging breaking pitch in the top of the zone.

Kris Bryant added a two out, solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning to put the game on ice early. Lester should pay for Baez’s dinner tonight, as the dynamic infielder slapped a single into right field in the bottom of the fifth inning to knock in another run. It was stress-free pitching for Lester for most of his outing and he almost hit his first career home run in the bottom of the fifth inning on a fly ball that was caught on the warning track (it ended up being a sacrifice fly that increased his lead to 8–0). A Ben Zobrist single later in the inning added one more run to the lead to increase the Cubs advantage to 9–0.

Jon Lester was brilliant, and showed no signs of complacency even though he was pitching with a huge lead for most of the ball game. He established affirmative command of both sides of the plate, and stranded five runners in the first five innings to offset three hits from Reds batters.

Lester finally got into trouble in the top of the sixth inning when a walk to Joey Votto and an error by Baez on a nasty-hop grounder put runners on first and second with one out. However, he punched out the next two hitters on nasty curves out of the zone to get out of the inning.

However, Lester lost his shutout in the seventh inning when Reds hitters managed three consecutive singles off of him. Although the Reds plated four runs on mostly weak contact in the top of the seventh inning off of Jon Lester and Hector Rondon to cut the deficit to five runs, the lead never really felt like it was in serious jeopardy.

The only thing that was in jeopardy late in the game was Javier Baez’s health as Addison Russell’s bat flew out of his hands on two consecutive swings, nearly taking out Baez who was standing in the at-bat circle. Baez made up for it with a single.

Brian Duensing completed a scoreless inning in the eighth, but loaded the bases in the ninth and was pulled for Koji Uehara who finished off the game with two strikeouts.

Game 2: Chicago Cubs 7 Cincinnati Reds 5

All hail, the professor!

Slow is beautiful, and Kyle Hendricks proved that the velocity issues that plagued him at the beginning of the season are a thing of the past. His fastballs are touching 88 mph again, creating that key velocity difference between his fast stuff and his breaking pitches that helps him be so effective.

Hendricks continues to prove that his slow start was fluky. He pitched six innings, allowing six hits and two earned runs and punching out four to improve his ERA to 3.35 through eight starts. The home run he gave up to Zack Cozart to lead off the third inning was also extremely fluky.

Hendricks had a lot of run support early on from his teammates. The Cubs chased Red’s starter and former Cub Scott Feldman out of the game early after ten Cubs batted in the second inning and five runs crossed the plate. The Cubs scored two more runs before Feldman could finish the third inning, and he left the game with five earned runs in 2.2 innings of work charged to his name.

The Cubs had a 7–2 lead after the third inning, but Mike Montgomery’s dud outing in the seventh inning allowed the Red’s to get back into the game after they scored three runs in the inning.

The late-inning life from the Reds turned out to be false hope, as the two-man wrecking crew of Carl Edwards and Wade Davis retired the Reds in order in the eighth and ninth inning respectively to give the Cubs their second consecutive win.

With the wind blowing out at 24 mph, the lack of homers (one) was perhaps the biggest surprise of the game. The longest hit of the evening came in batting practice when a Kyle Schwarber bomb took out half of the lights on the Budweiser sign in right field.

Game 1: Chicago Cubs 9 Cincinnati Reds 5

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon recorded his 1,000th career win, celebrating after the game with a glass of red wine.

I’ve seen a lot of different methods. I’ve been taught well, and I really want to say, it’s 1,000 wins. Other guys have done it, but to the players that have been a part of this, I want to say thank you — because you don’t do this without really good players. You don’t.

Maddon has a lot of good players on this Cubs team, and the position players showed up at the plate after failing to score over three runs in each of the four previous games.

After the first few innings, it looked like the Cubs would score 15 runs. Bronson Arroyo’s patented funkiness was no match for the Cubs bats early, as the Cubbies tagged the 40-year-old righty for four combined runs in the first two innings. Schwarber had a 462-foot solo home run.

It was the longest home run of his career and his first home run since May 5. His .188/.312/361 slash line still isn’t pretty, but his performance at the plate in two games in this series was certainly a step in the right direction. He went 3–10 in this series, with three RBIs, one home run and two strikeouts.

Unlike the game a day later, the strong wind blowing out yielded an abundance of long balls. Seven balls left the ballpark, with the Cubs totaling four of the seven (Schwarber, Ian Happ, Russell, and Anthony Rizzo).

Per Christopher Kamka of CSN Chicago, Happ is the first Cubs player to hit a home run in his first MLB home and away game since Carmelo Martinez accomplished the feat in 1983.

Uehara gave up a home run to Votto in the seventh inning to bring the score to 7–5. But, Edwards and Davis closed the game out in dominating fashion in the eighth and ninth innings respectively to give the Cubs a victory.

What’s Next?

The Chicago Cubs will stay at home for a three-game weekend series against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. Game 1 is Friday at 2:20 ct where newly acquired Eddie Butler will face off against Paolo Espino for the Brewers.

Paul Steeno is a fan of Chicago. Although he has suffered through another tough Bulls season he is still fired up about the World Champion Chicago Cubs. You can follow him here on Twitter.