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Lester sharp in tuneup as Cubs blank Reds

September 30, 2017

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Lester tuned up for next week's postseason play. Jackson Stephens is already looking ahead to 2018.• Dress for October: Get NL Central champs gearKyle Schwarber drove in four runs, including a pair on his 30th homer, and Rene Rivera added three more RBIs to back Lester and

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Lester tuned up for next week's postseason play. Jackson Stephens is already looking ahead to 2018.
Dress for October: Get NL Central champs gear
Kyle Schwarber drove in four runs, including a pair on his 30th homer, and Rene Rivera added three more RBIs to back Lester and lead the Cubs to a 9-0 victory Saturday over the Reds at Wrigley Field.
Lester, expected to start either the first or second game against the Nationals in the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, struck out seven and scattered four hits. The left-hander finished the month 5-1, and he is now 13-3 with a 2.25 ERA in September since joining the Cubs in 2015.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he'll meet with the staff this week to decide who will start Game 1. Lester and Kyle Hendricks are the leading candidates.
"I don't make those decisions," Lester said. "If they chose to make me Game 1, that's a huge honor, huge responsibility to put on your shoulders and go out there and try to get your team off to the best start. If I'm in any of the other games, I'll go out and compete just like I would any other start."
Is it a complex decision?
"I hope it's not complex -- I like simplex," Maddon said. "When we get together in a couple days, we'll figure it out. There's a couple moving parts -- just a couple, not a whole lot."

Arrieta, Quintana slated for sim game
Schwarber homered in the second and added a two-run single in the third, while Rivera smacked a two-run single in a four-run sixth and hit a solo homer with two outs in the seventh.

"Schwarber has hit 30 in 400 at-bats. He hits homers -- he can do that," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "The two walks and then you give up a bloop hit to center that scores two runs, that's kind of the back-breaker. Those are things you can control."
The Cubs seem to be peaking at the right time. With the win, they're now a season-high 23 games over .500 and have won 15 of their last 18 games.
"I think we're in a good place," Lester said. "Guys are playing solid baseball now. We just have to keep that mindset and keep going."
Stephens took the loss in his seventh career appearance and fourth start. The right-hander, vying for a spot in the Reds' rotation next year, struck out five and gave up four hits over four innings. Cincinnati now has lost 10 of its last 11 games and was shut out for the eighth time this season.
"Just trying to come out here and do my best, try to compete and execute some pitches," said Stephens, who finished 2-1 with a 4.68 ERA. "I'll go into the offseason wishing that I wouldn't have made a few pitches, obviously. Just coming out here and being with these guys, it was fun. I've got to do some stuff in the offseason to get better."
-30- :Willson Contreras singled to lead off the Chicago second, and Schwarber launched the first pitch he saw from Stephens to center field for his 30th home run. According to Statcast™, the ball had an exit velocity of 110.9 mph and traveled 437 feet. It's been quite a comeback season for Schwarber, who was sent down to Triple-A Iowa on June 22 when he was batting .171. He returned on July 6, and he has been on a tear recently, with six home runs in his last 15 games.

"It's been an up-and-down year, and it is what it is," Schwarber said. "I'm happy about [reaching 30], but I'm not too focused about it at all. It's a cool accomplishment. I'm more focused on the bigger picture here, which is the postseason coming up."
With Anthony Rizzo at 32 homers, this is the first time the Cubs have ever had two left-handed hitters reach 30 in a single season. More >
Marathon man: In the fifth inning on Sept. 22 against the Brewers, Jonathan Jay had a 15-pitch at-bat, which ended with a single. Pinch-hitter Thomas La Stella topped Jay with a 17-pitch at-bat in the Cubs' fifth on Saturday against the Reds' Asher Wojciechowski. Jay had fouled off 10 straight pitches; La Stella fouled off six after he got to a full count. But Wojciechowski struck out La Stella on a slider to end the marathon at-bat.

"It was something, it really was. La Stella battles. He's a scrappy player," Price said. "It seems like whenever they put him in against us, he does something good for them."
Kudos to Wojciechowski.
"It was actually pretty fun, even though I punched out," La Stella said. "[Wojciechowski] was just throwing strike after strike, and then he back-doored the breaking ball, which was an awesome pitch. Honestly, after however many fastballs in a row, it looked like it was in the other batter's box. It was an awesome pitch."
"I'm glad that he's had some opportunity to be here in the big leagues this year. I think we've got a kid that just recently turned 23 years old. I think he's going to be good. Now he's had an opportunity to get his feet wet up here, get some repetitions, get some starts and some relief opportunities. He'll be better for the experience heading into next season." -- Price, on Stephens

Lester finished the regular season with 180 2/3 innings, only the second time in the last 10 seasons that he did not reach 200. The other time, in 2011, he came close, totaling 191 2/3 innings with the Red Sox.
"There's always next year," Lester said.
The Cubs lead the Majors with 422 runs scored in 73 games since the All-Star break. It's the franchise's second most prolific second half since 1933, when the All-Star Game began. In 1935, the Cubs scored 487 runs in 82 games after the break.
A candidate for the NL Most Valuable Player Award, Reds first baseman Joey Votto was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning. Votto has reached base in a season-high 31 consecutive games, 60 of the last 61 and in 149 of his 161 games this season. It was just his second three-strikeout game of the season, with the other coming on Aug. 18 in Atlanta.
Reds: The 2017 season comes to an end for the Reds as they play the Cubs in Sunday's 3:20 p.m. ET finale. William McGuire will make his second big league start and pitch for the sixth time overall since he was a September callup.
Cubs:Mike Montgomery will start in the regular-season finale on Sunday. The lefty is subbing for Jacob Arrieta, and he will be making his 14th start of the season. Montgomery is 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 10 games, including two starts, against the Reds in his career. First pitch will be 2:20 p.m. CT.
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Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.