Wild Card at Wrigley? Cubs gain on idle Bucs
CINCINNATI -- The Cubs continued their bid to host the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser by posting a soggy 5-3 win Thursday afternoon over the Reds, who lost their 12th in a row.
Austin Jackson smacked a three-run home run and Anthony Rizzo added an RBI double to back Jason Hammel, who scattered five hits over five innings for the win in his final regular-season start. Cubs manager Joe Maddon planned on shortening Hammel's outing, but he didn't tell the right-hander until after the fifth.
"I was surprised," Hammel said. "I think the only way I wouldn't make a stink about it was that I felt so good."
With the Pirates idle Thursday, the Cubs picked up a half game in the race for home-field advantage in the Oct. 7 game, and they now are two games back. The Pirates' magic number to play the game at PNC Park is two. The Cubs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Pirates, but any combination of Pirates wins or Cubs losses adding up to two would guarantee the Pirates finish a game ahead of the Cubs and earn the right to host the NL Wild Card Game. If they finish with identical W-L records, the Cubs would host the game by virtue of their going 11-8 against the Pirates this season.
"We're good and we know it," Hammel said. "It was nice to see it come together so quickly. It was something I saw the last couple weeks I was here last year before I got traded. Obviously, that's one of the reasons I came back was because I thought we had a good chance to win."
John Lamb took the loss, which extended the Reds' skid to 12, the longest streak since they dropped a dozen, Sept. 10-22, 1993. Lamb allowed five earned runs and five hits over 4 2/3 innings. He struck out six and had three walks, including two just before Jackson's homer.
"A couple of walks leads to a home run, it hurts," Lamb said. "It's just the way the game goes. I don't know how or why things happen the way they happen. But I know when I am falling behind, it's not going to help me put myself or the team in the position to up the probability of success."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Action Jackson: Making his 11th start since joining the Cubs, Jackson continued his hot streak from Wednesday, when he drove in a career-high five runs. The outfielder, acquired Aug. 31 from the Mariners, smacked a three-run homer in the third and also made a nice running catch in right to rob Brandon Phillips of a potential hit and end the third.
"When you're in the role that I'm in, when you get in there, you just want to try to do whatever you can to contribute to a win," Jackson said. "I've been getting some good pitches to hit and doing my best not to miss them when I get them." More >
The streak continues: One day after being rested because of an upper back and shoulder injury, Joey Votto kept his on-base streak alive with an RBI single through the middle off of Clayton Richard in the seventh that made it a 5-2 game. Votto now has reached base safely in 47 consecutive games, one shy of Pete Rose's 1978 single-season Reds record. The last player in the Majors to have a streak this long was Kevin Millar, who reached in 52 straight games in 2007. Phillips followed with an RBI single that bounced off of third baseman Javier Baez to make it a two-run game. Representing the tying run, Jay Bruce struck out to end the inning.
"It doesn't look like he's any worse off after that injury," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Votto.
Start me up: Hammel struck out five and did not walk a batter. Cubs starting pitchers have given up one earned run over 33 1/3 innings in their five-game winning streak. Whether Hammel will be considered to start in the postseason will depend on whether the Cubs advance past the Wild Card game, and who Maddon picks between Hammel, Kyle Hendricks and Dan Haren.
"Hammel did a great job today," catcher Kyle Schwarber said. "He had his fastball command and mixed in an occasional curveball and changeup. Everything was good there. It was a quality team win right there."
Down and out: Phillips hit a leadoff double in the sixth and stole third base with no outs. Bruce hit a popup to short left field that was caught by Baez. In a moment that seemed to sum up the day, Phillips feigned tagging up and danced up and down the line, but fell down on the wet grass. That was all the Cubs needed to get him into a rundown before Phillips was out in a double play that kept Cincinnati down 5-0 at the time.
"I think [Phillips] was trying to draw a throw," Price said. "There was no one at third base, so he had kind of the freedom to work his way down the line and see if he could encourage one extra throw. The problem with that in a 5-0 game is you can't lose your footing, which he did." More >
"I knew it was coming. I just didn't know when. I'm going to wear it with pride." -- Schwarber, after being squeezed into a blue and white gingham checked dress with an apron and red hair bow, part of the Cubs' rookie hazing.
Cubs: Jake Arrieta will try for his 22nd win on Friday when the Cubs open their final regular-season series in Milwaukee against the Brewers. The right-hander is the first Cubs pitcher with at least 21 wins since Fergie Jenkins went 24-13 in 1971. Arrieta is riding a streak of 19 straight quality starts. He was 4-0 with a 0.45 ERA in September. First pitch from Miller Park is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CT.
Reds: The final series of 2015 begins at 7:05 p.m. ET Friday when the Reds play the first of three games at Pittsburgh. Keyvius Sampson, who is 0-5 over his last eight starts, will try to end his year on a high note against the Pirates' Francisco Liriano.
Watch the game live and for free on MLB.TV.