Cubs

Cubs slug their way to a sweep of Reds in Cincinnati

Cubs slug their way to a sweep of Reds in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI — Anthony Rizzo saw the ball ricochet across the outfield and kicked his legs into high gear, deciding he was going to try to touch `em all. His sides were aching by the time he slid safely into home plate.

Rizzo legged out his first inside-the-park homer on Wednesday - a fitting final touch to a series full of unusual moments - and the Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-2 for a three-game sweep that put them back on solid footing after a rough stretch.

"They were on top of it, man, after a long one last night," Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks said.

The Cubs went 1-6 last week, hurt by an injury-depleted lineup and a balky bullpen. With thousands of Cubs fans in the stands at Great American Ball Park for each game, they pulled off an invigorating sweep.

The NL Central leaders won the opener 11-8 as Kris Bryant became the first major leaguer with three homers and two doubles in a game. They won 7-2 in 15 innings Tuesday night in a game that featured Javier Baez's grand slam and three relievers playing left field alternately.

Manager Joe Maddon went with a lot of his young backups after the long night. They piled up a dozen hits and made impressive plays all over the field.

"A bunch of babies played in that game today," Maddon said. "They were inexperienced, they were young, and they came out and played hard and played well."

There was more wackiness, too.

Rizzo drove in three runs in the first inning off left-hander Cody Reed (0-2) with the Cubs' first inside-the-park homer since 2011, when Tony Campana circled the bases against Cincinnati. Left fielder Adam Duvall cut in front of center fielder Billy Hamilton but couldn't get to the ball, which deflected off Hamilton's cheek.

Rizzo couldn't remember the last time he circled the bases that way.

"Maybe Little League?" he said. "Nothing like that. I'll take it."

Hamilton left the game to get tested for a concussion. He missed a week earlier this month after suffering a concussion when he slid into third base and got hit in the head.

"We both called for it at the same time," Duvall said. "I thought we were going to collide. I didn't take my eye off the ball, but I might've flinched a little bit. It hit him pretty good. It ended up rolling pretty far."

Hendricks (6-6) gave up Duvall's 22nd homer and went 6 2/3 innings, throwing 117 pitches to rest a bullpen worn out from pitching and playing the outfield. He also drove in a run with a squeeze bunt.

Hendricks didn't get to play the outfield, though - not this time, anyway.

"The way things are going, you never know," he said.

Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr. had solo shots for the Cubs, who hit 10 homers during the series. Baez had three more hits on Wednesday. Rizzo's homer gave him a 10-game hitting streak during which he's gone 17 for 36.

The Cubs have the major leagues' best record at 51-26. They're 9-1 against the Reds this season and have won 12 of their last 13 against their NL Central rival.

The Cubs' 27 runs in the series matched their second-highest total of the season for a three-game stretch.

They also turned in more good defensive plays. Right fielder Ben Zobrist threw out Joey Votto at the plate as he tried to score from second on Jay Bruce's single in the third.

SLAMMED

Research into Baez's 15th-inning slam found that it was the latest by inning in Cubs history. Also, it was only the third in baseball history to happen in the 15th inning or later. New York's Tino Martinez hit one in the 15th in 1996, and Boston's Clyde Vollmer hit one in the 16th inning in 1951, according to STATS information provided by the team. The Cubs hadn't scored five runs so late in a game since 1927.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cubs: Maddon gave LHP Travis Wood the day off after he played left field and pitched in relief Tuesday night.

Reds: 2B Brandon Phillips was in the lineup despite getting hit in the ribs and taking a foul off his left ankle Tuesday night. He had a single in four at-bats.

UP NEXT

Cubs: RHP John Lackey (7-4, 3.29 ERA) opens a four-game series at New York against the Mets. He's coming off his worst outing of the season, when he allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings of a loss at Miami last Saturday.

Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan (3-6, 3.83) opens a four-game series at Washington. He has lost his last two starts, giving up seven earned runs in 11 2/3 innings. The Reds don't play at home again until July 15.

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

With the MLB offseason about to kick off, we run down the boldest predictions for the Cubs winter from around the NBC Sports Chicago Cubs content team. Topics include where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, how much money they’ll get, what the Cardinals will do this winter, Cubs offseason trades and how Theo Epstein’s front office may add to the pitching staff.

 

One topic we could all agree on was David Ross' potential as Cubs bench coach if the incumbent Brandon Hyde ends up taking a job as manager for another team around the league.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here and check out all of our bold predictions below:

 

 

David Kaplan

 

—Anthony Rizzo and his new wife, Emily, will adopt Manny Machado, change his last name and see Manny Rizzo playing third base for the 2019 Cubs.

—Because of the Rizzo move, the Cubs will move Kris Bryant to a full-time outfielder.

—The Cubs will trade away Jose Quintana and sign Patrick Corbin.

—The Cubs will sign a pair of former Indians relievers for the back end of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

—The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber to the Royals for Whit Merrifield, who will start 155 games in the leadoff spot in the order.

—Joe Maddon will be a lot more consistent with the Cubs' lineup and batting order all season.

 

Kelly Crull

 

—Anthony and Emily Rizzo will receive more wedding gifts from Cubs fans than Kris and Jessica Bryan received.

—Anthony Rizzo will train this offseason so he will be able to sing — or play the piano — for the National Anthem at Wrigley in 2019.

—The Cubs will have no money left to remodel the media room at Wrigley Field.

 

Luke Stuckmeyer

 

—The Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field is going to be replaced by Kap's Kryo & Keto Korner.

—The Cubs will finally find a solution to the leadoff hitter issue.

 

Tony Andracki

 

—The Cubs sign Bryce Harper for less than $250 million. (He follows 23 people on Twitter)
—Manny Machado does not get a contract for more than $250 million, either.
—The Cardinals will sign Craig Kimbrel and either Machado or Josh Donaldson to play 3B. 

 

Rationale: St. Louis could really use the bat and closer and they have a sense of urgency in the division this winter we haven't seen from them in at least a decade. The Cubs and Brewers have clearly been better for two seasons now and look to have a better chance at contending than the Cardinals in 2019, as well. That can't be sitting well with the "Best Fans in Baseball." 

 

Jeff Nelson, producer

 

—The Cubs will trade 2 of the following players:  Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr.

—The Cardinals will sign Manny Machado to play third base.

—Because of construction delays, the visitors’ clubhouse will not be ready for the home opener, forcing the Pirates to dress at their hotel and come to the ballpark in full uniform.

Mike Piff, social media manager

—Cubs sign Nick Markakis.
—Cubs sign Tyson Ross.

Eric Strobel, producer

—The Cubs 2019 saves leader is not currently on the roster.

Rationale: We saw what happened to the bullpen in Brandon Morrow's absence; it got the job done by and large, but was not longer truly feared. Deep 'pens are the norm in October now with lockdown relievers being counted on more and more. The front office knows they can't truly entrust that kind of workload to Morrow with his injury history - Theo admitted as much in his end-of-season press conference. While they probably will not make a big splash, a huge focus of the offseason will be to surround Morrow/Strop/Edwards/etc. with as many talented arms as possible. The Cubs could very well enter next season without a designated closer, but if they do, it will not be Brandon Morrow.

Scott Changnon, multi-platform producer

—The Cubs will sign Bryce Harper.

Rationale: "I dunno, maybe."

Nate Poppen, producer

—Cubs sign Andrew McCutchen, plug him into CF and make Almora a 4th OF (or expendable)
—Bryce Harper signs with Yankees.
—Manny Machado signs with Angels.

Matt Buckman, producer

Non-roster prediction: The Cubs will welcome Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field. Sammy turns 50 this winter, and fueled by our wonderful documentary on 1998, the Cubs will finally mend their broken bond with Sammy and bring him back to Wrigley.

Roster prediction: The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff hitter. Joe has had to get very creative with the top of his order since Dexter Fowler left. Though the front office has downplayed the importance of a lead-off hitter the last two off-seasons, they will look to add one for 2019 so that Joe doesn’t have to be so creative. They won’t have a place to play Schwarber after they sign Harper so they will swap his power for a new “you go, we go” guy. Look at KC or TB as AL teams that need to add power and also have guys who could potentially lead off for the Cubs. Mallex Smith (TB) or Whit Merrifield (KC) would be interesting options.

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.