Cubs Record: 102-57 (1st Place NL Central)
W: Jake Buchanan (1-0, 1.50)
L: Josh Smith (3-3, 4.68)
MVP: Ben Zobrist: 3-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R.
The Cubs began the final series of the regular season Friday night in Cincinnati. It feels like the Reds were eliminated in May, but it was actually only a month ago. AAA starter Jake Buchanan got a spot start after Jason Hammel was scratched with elbow tightness. For the second time this month, Cincinnati’s Josh Smith got a spot start against the Cubs.
Even though Chicago fielded a lineup of mostly starters, the pitchers dominated the first 4 innings at Great American Ball Park. Buchanan allowed only a couple hitters to reach, while Smith was perfect. Ben Zobrist put an end to that perfection in the 5th with a long homer to right field: 1-0 Cubs.
A Kris Bryant ground out with the bases loaded scored Miguel Montero to double the Cubs’ lead in the 6th before Trevor Cahill relieved Buchanan after 5 strong innings. Cahill gave up a double to Jose Peraza, who would eventually score on a ground out to make it 2-1. Zobrist switched to the other side of the plate to double off Reds lefty Tony Cingrani in the 7th. An Addison Russell double chased Ben home to make it 3-1.
Abel De Los Santos became the latest Redlegs reliever to be destroyed by the Cubs Friday. With one out in the 8th, Dexter Fowler walked and Bryant singled with. After a wild pitch advanced the runners, Anthony Rizzo singled to score both. Then the Zorilla struck again, hitting his second homer of the game and 17th of the season to make it 7-1 Chicago.
Joe Smith and Justin Grimm took care of the 7th and 8th innings, respectively with no damage. CJ Edwards gave up a two-run shot to Joey Votto in the 9th, but then shut the door: Cubs win 7-3.
Ben Zobrist was absolutely on fire Friday night in Southwest Ohio. Three extra-base hits, including two homers, made for a very impressive line for the Cubs second baseman. In a larger sense, Zo has been exactly what the Cubs were hoping he would be in 2016: solid defense, good on-base skills, occasional power, and versatility. Zobrist will be a huge factor in the playoffs for the Northsiders this year.
Jake Buchanan was very good in his last-minute start. The former Astro allowed only two hits and a walk in 5 innings of work. His sinker generated a lot of ground ball contact, which was vacuumed up by the Cubs talented infield. Buchanan might not have a future in Chicago, but he could be of use to a team that needs a back-end starter.
No offense to the Reds (alright, some offense), but I think every Cubs fan wants this weekend to fly by. This last series has the feel of the last days of high school before graduation. Everyone is excited — and, let’s be totally honest here, some are scared — about the playoffs. No matter what the emotion is, fans are just eager to see what happens.
After giving up two more longballs on Friday, Cincinnati has allowed 39 homers to Chicago hitters this season. That’s the most the Reds have ever allowed to an opponent in a single season. As of now, MLB has not responded to the Cubs’ petition to move a portion of their home games to Great American Ballpark.
Jon Lester (19-4, 2.28 ERA) makes the closing argument in his Cy Young case in his final regular season start Saturday at 3 PM CST. Tim Adleman (3-4, 3.90 ERA) faces the Cubs for the second time in two weeks. Only two more games until the real fun/terror starts Cubs nation.