Cubs record: 14-5 (1st in the NL Central)
W: Jason Hammel (3-0, 0.75)
L: Alfredo Simon (0-2, 16.39)
MVP: Tommy La Stella
Any concerns over the Cubs feeling a bit of a hangover effect from Saturday night’s lopsided loss were quickly put to bed as the Chicago offense jumped all over Reds starter Alfredo Simon in the final game of the series Sunday at Cincinnati.
By the time he was pulled after 2 2/3 innings, the Cubs had pounded out nine hits and put eight runs on the board against The Big Pasta (yes, that is Simon’s actual nickname). That proved to be more than adequate for Jason Hammel, who gave up just three hits and struck out seven over six shutout innings.
How fun is this team to watch? On a day in which Joe Maddon gave Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist a breather, the offense simply didn’t skip a beat. While the Cubs didn’t knock Simon out of the game quite as quickly as the last time these two teams faced off, they still beat him like a rented mule (is that still a relevant saying?), as even the outs were well struck.
The top half of the Cubs lineup in particular did extensive damage, and they wasted little time in getting things started.
Tommy La Stella, starting in place of Zobrist, led off the game with a double and was quickly brought home by a Jason Heyward single. Anthony Rizzo followed that up one out later with a two-run home run and before the Reds knew it, the Cubs were out in front, 3-0.
The Cubs tacked on two more runs in the top of the second thanks to some two-out magic, and added three more in the third, including another two-run shot by Rizzo.
By the end of the game, the top four hitters in the Cubs’ lineup accounted for 11 of the team’s 14 hits, seven of the nine runs, and eight of the nine RBI. Just look at these lines:
Tommy La Stella: 3 for 5, 3 R, RBI, 2 2B, HR
Jason Heyward: 4 for 5, 1 R, 3 RBI, 2B, SB
Kris Bryant: 2 for 3, 1 R, 2 BB
Anthony Rizzo: 2 for 4, 2R, 4 RBI, BB, 2 HR
Not too shabby.
On the mound, Hammel continued his strong start to the 2016 campaign. It was his fourth consective six-inning start in as many opportunities and he lowered his ERA to a team-leading 0.75. It wasn’t a perfect outing, though, as Hammel labored a bit in the fourth and sixth innings and left with a pitch count of 96. Despite that, the Reds never really put up much of a threat and Hammel was able to exit with the game firmly in hand.
Adam Warren came on in the bottom of the seventh and looked sharp in making quick work of Cincinnati, mowing the Reds down in order. While I was sad to see Starlin Castro go, Warren was a big addition to the bullpen and I can’t help but think he is going to play a big role before this season is over.
Travis Wood handled the eighth without incident, working a 1-2-3 inning with a couple of strikeouts, while Hector Rondon did likewise in the ninth in an obvious non-save situation.
Miguel Montero remains mired in a bit of a slump at the plate. He went 0 for 5 on Sunday and is now 2 for his last 23.
Also, while the top half of the order was superb, the bottom half was less so. The 5-9 slots in the lineup were a combined 3 for 23 with one walk, an RBI, and a couple of runs scored.
I was fortunate enough to get the WGN feed, but I can only assume the Reds’ broadcast team was once again in top form.
The Cubs have an off day Monday before heading back to Wrigley Field to take on Milwaukee Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m. (CST). Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 4.00) will take the mound for Chicago, looking to rebound from a shaky start against the Cardinals his last time out (5 1/3 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 4 ER). The Brewers will counter with the lone bright spot in their rotation so far in 2016, right-hander Jimmy Nelson (3-1, 3.46).