With the National League Central title secured and nothing to play for, the Chicago Cubs still provided some drama for the fans in the final series of the regular season. Ian Happ’s three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth was the difference in the Cubs’ 5-4 win over the visiting Cincinnati Reds, who look to even the series Saturday afternoon.
Happ’s decisive blast in Friday’s 5-4 victory was his second homer in as many days and his 24th of the year -- the second-highest total in NL history for a rookie switch hitter (behind Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell with 26). Winners of three in a row, Chicago used a patchwork lineup for the second straight game after clinching the division title Wednesday night, but more regulars are expected to see action Saturday. Reds first baseman Joey Votto reached a personal milestone with his third 100-RBI season -- and first since 2011 -- while extending his hitting streak to 10 games. Cincinnati rookie Jackson Stephens will make his fourth career start when he opposes Cubs left-handed Jon Lester, making his final tuneup before the NL Division series.
TV: 4:05 p.m. ET, FSN Ohio (Cincinnati), CSN Chicago
PITCHING MATCHUP: Reds RH Jackson Stephens (2-0, 3.86 ERA) vs. Cubs LH Jon Lester (12-8, 4.46)
Stephens earned the win in his major league debut against the Cubs on July 1 by allowing three runs over five innings while striking out eight, although he surrendered a pair of homers. The 23-year-old is coming off the most impressive performance of his brief career, limiting Boston to one run on two hits over six innings in a no-decision. Stephens has permitted five homers in his three starts.
Lester rebounded from a woeful effort at Tampa Bay with six innings of one-run ball in St. Louis on Monday for his third quality start in four turns. ”I have to get back to being me,“ he said afterward. ”I have to get back to putting hitters in a defensive mode as opposed to trying to pitch to a scouting report from pitch one. Lester was hammered by the Reds for nine runs in 1 2/3 innings on Aug. 17.
1. Votto, riding an on-base streak of 30 straight games, is batting .375 (24-for-64) against Chicago this season.
2. Cubs RHP Jake Arrieta will likely skip Sunday’s start to allow his ailing hamstring to heal.
3. Reds 3B Eugenio Suarez had a career-long 71-game errorless streak halted in the series opener.
PREDICTION: Cubs 5, Reds 3