It was a long and sometimes frustrating day in Cincinnati, but at the end of it the Cubs picked up half a game on the Cardinals and Pirates. The Twins could not help the cause with a win against Milwaukee. So the team is actually farther away from first place then where they started the day, but the Cubs have a chance to rattle off a few more wins before it is all said and done.
The game started with a familar feeling. Ben Zobrist drew a leadoff walk against Reds starter Sal Romano, and moved to third on a Tommy La Stella single. Kris Bryant hit a groundball to third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who fired home to get Ben Zobrist. Anthony Rizzo struck out and Willson Contreras flied out to end the inning, and it was deja vu all over again with a runner stranded on third with no outs.
Thankfully, Jose Quintana was excellent, and so the early struggles with runners in scoring position mattered little. Quintana did not a base hit until the fifth inning. A second inning walk to Adam Duvall gave the Reds their first base runner, but a one out walk and base hit gave the Reds their first and their best scoring chance of the game. Kris Bryant made a nice play on a Tony Cruz groundball to start the inning ending double play. The Reds would manage to put a runner in scoring position just one other time in the game. Jose Quintana would throw seven scoreless innings. Mike Montgomery and Steve Cishek finished out the three hit shut out.
The Cubs took their first lead of the day in the third inning. Ben Zobrist and Tommy La Stella combined for the second time to give the Cubs runners on the corners with no outs. Kris Bryant hit another groundball, but the Reds had to try for two with it hit back up the middle. The Reds only managed to get a single out at second, and the Cubs had a 1-0 lead. The Cubs added another tally in the fourth inning. Ian Happ launched a home run to right field to double the Cubs lead.
The Cubs broke the game open in the fifth inning. Ben Zobrist walked for the second time to lead off the inning, and moved into scoring position with Bryant's one out walk. Rizzo ripped a double into right field to double the Cubs lead again. Contreras struck out and had a generally miserable day at the plate. Happ was intentionally walked again. Romano loaded the bases with his two out walk of Addison Russell. Jason Heyward hit a pop up in shallow right field. Jesse Winker for some reason didn't charge hard and instead Scooter Gennett tried to make an amazing catch on it. The ball tipped off of his glove into the right field corner for a triple that might have been an inside the park grand slam if not for the stop sign. The Cubs 7-0 lead was more than enough for Q tonight.
The Cubs added single tallies in the seventh, eighth and ninth to break double digits for the ninth time in 2018. Heyward and Rizzo each had a sacrifice fly and the final run scored on Albert Almora Jr.'s double.
It wasn't his best start ever. It wasn't even his best start in a Cubs uniform, but it was a much needed performance from the sometimes maligned Cubs southpaw. This is the guy that the front office was trading blue chip prospects for last season. The innings were crucial with Hendricks unable to make it through six innings and the bullpen having to pitch into yet another extra inning game just hours before. Quintana shut the Reds down and gave the offense a chance to explode.
The story of game one today was the fact that not a single Cubs position player had a hit with runners in scoring position. Kyle Hendricks provided the lone hit in the ample opportunities the Cubs had to take the first game. Bryant twice put the ball in play, and was rewarded for it in the third inning. Ian Happ is hot again after being left for dead by some, and is another guy that just seems to like to hit in Ohio. The unusual pairing of Ben Zobrist and Tommy La Stella did its thing with the pair reaching base a combined seven times. Heyward's "triple" might not have been earned but he managed another base hit and sacrifice fly for a very productive return to the lineup in the night cap. It is frustrating to watch the feast and famine nature of the lineup, but when they are on it is a deadly group.
Q was divine tonight.