Another trip to Southern Ohio, another series victory for the Cubs. This past weekend's visit to Great American Ballpark marks the 7th straight time the Cubs haven't lost a series there, and the 5th time this season that they've won a series with the only loss being the Pittsburgh sweep. With a chance at revenge against the Bucs (hopefully, depending on the weather) getting underway at PNC Park tonight, a lot of questions still remain.
Jason Heyward got the Cubs started Friday night with a first pitch solo homer in the 4th, but the lead was quickly erased by a 3 spot from the Reds in the bottom half of that inning. Javy Baez and Adam Duvall exchanged solo homers in the 5th, but then a 2 out rally from the Reds in the 6th ended Jon Lester's day, and eventually led to Justin Grimm walking in a run. The Cubs bullpen was fantastic the rest of the way, and in the 9th Anthony Rizzo hit a 2 out, game tying 3 run homer tho send it to extras. Albert Almora scored the go-ahead run in the 11th on a Kris Bryant sac fly, and Wade David had a clean bottom half to record his 4th save of the season and give the Cubs an unlikely 6-5 victory.
The afternoon after his 9th inning heroics, Rizzo got the party started early Saturday with a 3 run homer off Cody Reed in the first. This lead was also quickly erased by a 3 run homer in the bottom half off Jake Arrieta, and then a solo shot from Eugenio Suarez 2 batters later. The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the second, and then Willson Contreras hit his first career grand slam to put them back up 7-4. Arrieta gave up another run in the bottom half, but then was able to settle in and pitch 6 innings only allowing 2 baserunners after the 2nd. Heyward stayed hot by hitting a homer for the second straight day, this time a 3 run shot in the 6th, and then singled in a run in the 9th to secure a 12-8 win.
Rizzo hit a home run for the 3rd straight game Sunday, but it wasn't enough as John Lackey was roughed up pretty bad and the Reds were able to grab a 7-2 lead after 6. The Cubs rallied a bit in the 9th off a pair of RBI singles from Russell and Heyward and brought the tying run up in the form of Miguel Montero, but he grounded into a double play to end the threat and give the Reds a 7-5 win to avoid a sweep.
Let's start with the positives. Rizzo and Heyward were both fantastic the whole series. It's especially encouraging in Heyward's case, because if he keeps hitting this lineup in going to be incredible when it heats up this summer. Also other than a bit of a rough inning from Brian Duensing and a solo shot given up by Justin Grimm on Saturday, the bullpen was solid for the second straight series. Obviously, the Cubs also found a way to win this series and grab first place in the division, which at the end of the day is all that matters.
The elephant in the room is that the starting pitching didn't get any better this past weekend. 14 earned runs in 17 2/3 inning from the starting pitching definitely isn't going to cut it long term. Great American Ballpark is a hitters park, so there is a grain of salt to be taken with this, but hopefully these guys will get it together soon. Friday was Lester's first bad start of the season so I'm not worried about him. Arrieta also should be fine, it's just taken longer than we've hoped. I'm concerned about Lackey, but the strikeouts have been there and he really hasn't walked many guys so if he could just limit the mistake pitches and keep the ball down, I think he can have a pretty nice season.
Looking ahead to Pittsburgh, I love the Cubs chances on Wednesday with Lester taking the mound against Tyler Glasnow, who's been awful to start the year. Tonight it's probably advantage Pittsburgh with Chad Kuhl going against Brett Anderson, and then Tuesday should be two guys who haven't found there best stuff yet with Kyle Hendricks opposing Gerrit Cole. With the way the Cubs have been hitting, I still expect them to win this series as long as they get some decent starting pitching and the bullpen doesn't implode like it did at Wrigley two weekends ago. With a trip to Fenway looming, it would make for a fun weekend if this team can stay hot.