The Chicago Cubs continued to play well against the National League Central to start a shortened 2020 season in which every game takes on more meaning.
Chicago defeated the Cincinnati Reds 8-7 in Monday's division showdown at Great American Ball Park, improving to 3-1 on the campaign after winning two of three against the Milwaukee Brewers in the opening series.
Jon Lester was dominant on the hill through five hitless innings, while Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and David Bote spearheaded the offensive effort. Chicago still nearly blew a 7-0 lead with a dismal bullpen performance.
The Reds are just 1-3 after dropping two of three to the Detroit Tigers.
Notable Player Stats
- Jon Lester, SP, CHC: 5.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 K
- Wade Miley, SP, CIN: 1.2 IP, 5 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 3 K
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC: 1-for-2, 1 HR, 3 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
- Willson Contreras, C, CHC: 2-for-4, 2 R, 1 RBI
- David Bote, 3B, CHC: 2-for-5, 2 RBI
- Tyler Stephenson, C, CIN: 2-for-2, 1 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB
Jon Lester's Still Got It
Lester will forever be a Cubs legend no matter what happens for the rest of his career.
After all, his decision to sign with the team prior to the 2015 campaign kicked president of baseball operations Theo Epstein's rebuilding effort into high gear and helped set the stage for a National League Championship Series appearance that season and a World Series title in 2016.
The five-time All-Star and 2016 NLCS MVP wasn't as effective last year with a 4.46 ERA, and it was fair to expect another uneven performance at age 36 this season.
So much for that.
Lester induced weak contact throughout the first five innings, never allowing a hit and working through a walk and his own error with relative ease. While he wasn't consistently missing bats, he displayed the veteran guile that could help stabilize the Cubs rotation behind Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish.
The southpaw also got run support in spades, which was needed because of the bullpen struggles behind him. Craig Kimbrel in particular struggled, nearly blowing a lead that was at one point 7-0 and 8-5 entering the final frame.
Chicago wasted no time setting the tone with four runs in the first inning behind an RBI double from Contreras, two-RBI double from Steven Souza Jr. and RBI single from Bote. The superstars got involved as well when Javier Baez notched an RBI double in the second and Rizzo went deep for the third time in four games to start the year.
That was more than enough for Lester, who appears primed to be a key part of the Cubs rotation even at this stage of his career.
Wade Miley with a Reds Debut to Forget
The Reds made moves like a contender who was all-in this offseason, adding Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, Mike Moustakas and Wade Miley to a roster that already had some notable pieces.
Miley was a head-turning addition because the rotation already had Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer. Even a decent performance from the southpaw as a No. 4 or 5 starter would give Cincinnati a rotation with one of the highest ceilings in the league.
The 33-year-old has been inconsistent during his career, posting an ERA above 4.00 five times and below 4.00 four times. It was as high as 5.61 in 2017 and as low as 2.57 in 2018, underscoring the year-to-year variability he has demonstrated during his professional career.
Cincinnati may not like the 2020 version if Monday was any indication.
While the Cubs are loaded with powerful bats in Rizzo, Baez, Contreras, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, Miley didn't give his team much of a chance by not even making it through two innings and staking his effective counterpart to a quick 6-0 lead.
The Reds will need much better efforts in the future if their signing is going to pay off.
The two teams play again Tuesday in the second contest of a four-game series.