Cubs quiet Reds behind Quintana, J-Hey, Baez

Grand slam busts game open in 8th; tempers flare after HBP

June 30th, 2019

CINCINNATI -- walked off the mound in the direction of , who spiked his helmet and tossed away his bat and barked at the Cubs reliever. While and pushed the irate Reds outfielder away from Strop, the pitcher yelled back at Puig.

In the eighth inning of Chicago's 6-0 win over the Reds on Saturday, Strop hit Puig on the left leg with a 3-0 pitch, angering the outfielder and stirring a brief bench-clearing mob scene. Tempers were as high as the heat at Great American Ball Park, where the moment served as a bit of symbolism for the bunched-up National League Central race.

"I was yelling a lot of stuff. He was yelling a lot of stuff," Strop said. "I just said, 'Man, just charge me. What else can you do?'"

The Cubs have absorbed a series of setbacks this season -- the latest being the loss of Cole Hamels to an oblique injury on Friday night -- but they remain atop the NL Central. Strop dared Puig to charge, just like Chicago has been daring the rest of the division to chase it down.

Even with the Cubs enduring more downs than ups of late, none of the other four teams have caught up. There are only 6 1/2 games separating all five clubs, though. That is not likely a sustainable situation, so the Cubs are hoping emotional wins such as the one in the Queen City on Saturday will eventually light the spark for a prolonged string of victories.

"This kind of season is just one [where we] keep fighting for some stability," Cubs outfielder said. "We keep talking about that amongst ourselves. It's not going to be perfect. Some people are going to get hurt. We're playing hard, playing in a tough division. It's a battle, but we want to try to stay afloat.”

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's victory:

1) Quintana bounces back
A few hours before Saturday's game, the Cubs placed Hamels on the 10-day injured list and set up an MRI exam for Monday in Pittsburgh. There is currently no timetable for the veteran's return, but the onus is on the rest of the rotation to keep things intact.

Left-hander took the mound with that in mind against the Reds and responded with six shutout innings. He threw more secondary pitches (51 curves and changeups) than fastballs (50 four-seamer and sinkers) in limiting Cincinnati to six scattered singles and no walks.

"The big takeaway is to pitch, pitch," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Don't just rely on your fastball so heavily all the time. Pitch. And I think as he goes further along into his career, as he does that, the fastball's still going to play up, but these other pitches make it play up even more."

The strong performance came one start after Quintana gave up nine runs against the Mets. The lefty had a 6.75 ERA in his previous six turns and had not picked up a win since May 5 against the Cardinals.

Quintana will remain critical to a rotation that is also without Kyle Hendricks (10-day IL, right shoulder).

"We need it. We need it, especially me," Quintana said of his win. "I needed an outing like that to get my confidence back. My focus was on one pitch at a time. I got a chance to win this game and tie this series. But, yeah, I had confidence. My stuff worked really good. And I tried to save the bullpen as much as I can."

2) A cleaner win
One of the issues throughout the past couple weeks for the Cubs has been a series of gaffes either on the bases or in the field. Maddon has said that he wants to be able to count on solid pitching and defense, plus solid fundamentals all the way around, as the team's foundation.

"I believe the pitching will maintain," Maddon said. "I believe the defense, the defense has the potential to be really sharp again. Those are the two things that I think can be constants."

Heyward provided a couple of defensive gems on Saturday, beginning with a running catch on a deep liner to right by Nick Senzel to start the first inning.

In the seventh inning, the Reds had Derek Dietrich on first base with one out and Chicago clinging to a 1-0 lead. Curt Casali then sent a pitch from reliever Steve Cishek to shallow right, where Heyward hustled in and made the grab on a play that had a 55 percent catch probability. The right fielder then swiftly threw on the run to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, doubling up Dietrich to end the inning.

"Big," Maddon said of the play. "When the ball was hit, I wasn't certain, but then I could see that he had a bead on it. And I also noticed that Dietrich did get out there a little bit. Of course, it was bang-bang and it's a great play on Jason's part. He's just had a hell of week to 10 days, something like that. His whole game has been elite-ish."

3) Baez ignites offense
For the first seven innings, it looked like more of the same from a Chicago lineup that has labored to break through with runners in scoring position. Reds starter Luis Castillo cruised through those frames with his only setback being a solo blast by Heyward in the second.

"We're not an oil painting by any means right now," Maddon said. "But, we're hanging in there."

After Castillo's exit, the Cubs went on the attack in the eighth.

Against reliever David Hernandez, David Bote delivered a pinch-hit single to lead things off and then Kris Bryant came through with a double. Zach Duke entered and issued a one-out walk to Rizzo to load the bases. Then, Reds manager David Bell handed the ball to Jared Hughes for a crucial matchup with Javier Baez.

Hughes fired an 0-1 sinker below the zone and away and Baez -- named the NL starter at short for the upcoming All-Star Game in Cleveland -- pounded the pitch the opposite way. The baseball found the seats for a grand slam that gave the shortstop 20 homers on the season, including an MLB-leading 11th to the opposite field.

The Cubs finished the day 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, but five runs scored via those two hits.

"He has the ability to do that," Bell said of Baez. "From where I was, it looked like a good pitch. But, Javy is a very good hitter and he can handle that pitch. Jared made the pitch and you have to give Javy credit for being able to do that and drive the ball the other way like that."