Cubs

Lester, Cubs continue dominance in Cincinnati, move to MLB-best 13-4

Lester, Cubs continue dominance in Cincinnati, move to MLB-best 13-4

CINCINNATI (AP) Jon Lester had a no-hitter in the back of his mind. He wound up giving up five hits, but gave the Chicago Cubs what they needed most.

Lester provided a fitting follow-up to Jake Arrieta's no-hitter by going seven innings on Friday night, and Anthony Rizzohomered for the third consecutive game, leading Chicago to an 8-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

The Cubs improved to 13-4, the best record in the majors and one of the best starts in the last 100 years. They also opened 13-4 in 1908 - the last time they won the World Series - and in 1970. The 1907 team went 14-3 on its way to a Series title.

"It just helps us relax," Lester said of the impressive start. "The scary part for opponents is you look up and some of our guys are not swinging the bat too great. But our pitching has been real consistent. It's going to be the backbone of this team and take us where we want to go."

Arrieta threw his second career no-hitter in the series opener on Thursday night, a 16-0 win. Lester (2-1) limited the Reds to four singles and Zack Cozart's solo homer.

Pitchers always try to match each other, and Lester had Arietta's no-hitter in mind when he took the mound.

"We think about it, the possibilities of `what if,'" Lester said.

Against the Reds, they've done a little of everything, outscoring them 46-7 while winning their five games this season.

"They have a nice club, and they do the type of things they have to do to get pitches to hit," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Give them credit."

Rizzo had a three-run homer during the series opener. He hit a solo shot - his team-high sixth - off Jon Moscot (0-1) as the Cubs pulled ahead 4-0 in the fourth inning. They are 12-0 this season when scoring at least four runs. David Ross had a sacrifice fly, and Ross and Lester squeezed home runs with sacrifice bunts.

The Cubs put it away with four runs in the ninth off J.J. HooverJavier Baez hit a solo homer - the 16th allowed by Cincinnati's bullpen in 17 games - and the Cubs hit three consecutive RBI doubles.

The Cubs have won their last eight games overall against the Reds. They have taken six straight in Cincinnati, their longest such streak since 1945-46.

Cincinnati managed to hit only six balls out of the infield during Arrieta's no-hitter. They got their first hit in the series in the first inning off Lester when Joey Votto snapped his 0-for-19 slump with a check-swing single. They failed to get a runner to third base until Cozart led off the sixth inning with his first homer.

ROAD SUCCESS

Chicago is 18-2 on the road since the end of last season, including 9-2 this year.

SELLING FAST

Cubs fans bristled that their "Try Not To Suck" T-shirts weren't allowed at Busch Stadium this week because of the Cardinals' long-standing policy prohibiting shirts with the word. Cubs manager Joe Maddon came up with the slogan and designed the shirt to raise money for his foundation. The dust-up resulted in a spike in sales of the $30 shirts, with $56,000 raised in the last two days. That puts the season total over $500,000 from shirt sales.

SHUFFLING THE `PEN

The Reds reshuffled their struggling bullpen, designating RHP Tim Melville for assignment and calling up RHP J.C. Ramirez. Melville gave up four runs and two homers during the 16-0 loss on Thursday. Cincinnati's bullpen has a 6.89 ERA that's worst in the NL. Reds relievers have thrown the most innings in the NL (62 2/3) and allowed the most homers (16) and walks (37).

TRAINER'S ROOM

Reds: CF Billy Hamilton missed a second straight game with a sore left thumb, injured while trying to make a catch at the wall in St. Louis last weekend.

UP NEXT

Cubs: John Lackey tries to open a season 4-0 for the first time in his career. He threw seven innings at St. Louis for a 5-0 win on Monday.

Reds: Dan Straily (0-0) makes his first appearance and second career start. He opened the season in the bullpen but was moved into the injury-depleted rotation.

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."