CHICAGO (AP) — The Cubs are starting to show the pop that helped propel them to their first championship in 108 years.
For that, manager Joe Maddon credited their starting pitching.
Javier Baez hit a grand slam, Kris Bryant homered and the Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-5 Thursday to complete a three-game sweep.
“Starting pitching drives the engine,” Maddon said. “I will never be deceived by that thought. While that’s happening, you have a chance to hit better just by keeping the other team down. Guys get a chance to get in the flow and do their thing.”
Chicago outscored Cincinnati 25-15 in the series after struggling at the plate for much of this season. The Cubs have 23 wins in their last 28 games against the Reds.
Baez came through with three hits and a season-high five RBIs. He got the rout going when he capped a five-run first inning against Amir Garrett (3-3) with his third career slam .
Bryant hit his eighth homer this season in the fourth, a long solo drive to center , and the Cubs scored three in the fifth to take a 9-0 lead.
Jon Lester (2-2) followed up solid starts from John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks by allowing three runs and six hits in six-plus innings. He improved to 11-0 in his last 15 regular-season home starts. Lester left with a 9-1 lead after giving up singles to Jose Peraza, Tucker Barnhart and Arismendy Alcantara in the seventh.
“We’re trending in the right direction, which is good,” Lester said.
Cincinnati has lost six straight, its longest skid since dropping 11 in a row last May. Recalled from Triple-A Louisville, Garrett gave up six runs and five hits in four innings. He walked four — three in the first inning.
“We didn’t throw strikes here,” manager Bryan Price said. “This was not a series where we did what we’re capable of doing as a staff. We didn’t throw enough strikes and it exacerbates a problem.”
Chicago’s Koji Uehara got his first save this season after he entered with the bases loaded and no outs in the ninth. He retired Adam Duvall on a sacrifice fly , then struck out Eugenio Suarez and Stuart Turner, both on three pitches.
Even after viewing video and still photos from Major League Baseball, Price still was not convinced Votto should have been ruled out at first on a replay review that ended Wednesday’s 7-5 loss.
“I think if we’re going to make this as good of a system as possible, you have to able to give the team that’s on the wrong side of that call the clarity that allows us to go, ‘Hey, they got the call right. We’ll live with that,’” Price said.
With two out in the ninth on Wednesday, Votto hit a grounder up the middle that shortstop Addison Russell fielded on the other side of second base. Anthony Rizzo had to stretch as far as he could go to bring in the throw. Votto was ruled safe by first base umpire Ed Hickox, but the Cubs challenged the call — and won.
RHP Barrett Astin was optioned to Louisville.
Reds: C Devin Mesoraco (tight hamstring) was out of the lineup for the third straight game and might be headed to the disabled list. “We haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Price said. “There’s been improvement each day. But it’s a hamstring. It’s not the same as an oblique, but I think it can be as easily exacerbated.” Mesoraco was limited to a combined 39 games in 2015 and 2016 because of injuries to both hips and his left shoulder.
Cubs: OF Jason Heyward (sore knuckle on his right hand) was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Class A South Bend on Thursday.
Reds: After going the distance in his first big league start since 2014, RHP Lisalverto Bonilla (0-1, 4.85 ERA) is slated to be on the mound when the Reds open a five-game homestand against Colorado and LHP Tyler Anderson (2-4, 6.43) on Friday. Bonilla pitched a six-hitter for his first big league complete game, a 3-1 loss to San Francisco on Saturday.
Cubs: RHP Eddie Butler (1-0, 0.00) makes his second start of the season as the Cubs open a weekend series against Milwaukee. Butler pitched two-hit ball over six scoreless innings at St. Louis on Friday for his first win since May 14 last year with Colorado.