CINCINNATI (AP) — Left-hander Jon Lester failed to become a 20-game winner on Saturday, struggling for the first time since mid-July as the Cincinnati Reds pulled away to a 7-4 victory over what’s likely to be the Chicago Cubs’ lineup for the first game of the playoffs.
Lester (19-5) gave up five runs in only five innings, including Eugenio Suarez’s two-run homer and a pair of RBIs by Joey Votto. The left-hander hadn’t allowed five runs in a start since July 9.
Asked before the game if he’ll open the playoffs with the same lineup — including Lester on the mound — manager Joe Maddon said, “There’s a shot.” The Cubs will host the NL wild-card playoff winner on Friday at Wrigley Field.
Maddon has been getting players — especially his starting pitchers — some rest heading into the postseason. Even so, the Cubs have won eight of 12, finishing one of their best regular seasons with a flourish. Chicago’s 102 victories are its most since 1910.
Tim Adleman (4-4) gave up three runs in five innings as part of a rare Reds victory over Chicago. The Cubs are 14-4 against Cincinnati this season. Ben Zobrist hit his third homer in two games.
Nobody’s been better lately than Lester. Since the All-Star break, he’d won a career-high 10 straight decisions. In September, he allowed a total of two runs while winning all five starts. Lester had allowed one run or none in a club-record eight straight starts heading into Saturday.
The Reds strung together several well-placed hits while sending him to his first loss since July 3. Lester was hoping to become the first Cubs left-hander to win 20 games since Dick Ellsworth in 1963.
Jake Arrieta won 22 games last season to help the Cubs reach the playoffs.
Cubs: OF Jorge Soler took batting practice on Saturday and appeared to have no problems with his sore right side that has sidelined him for a week. Maddon said he would likely play on Sunday if there was no lingering soreness.
Reds: 2B Brandon Phillips had an MRI on his sore left hand that found a deep bruise. He missed a fourth straight game.
Cubs: Kyle Hendricks (16-8) is expected to go no more than five innings as the Cubs keep him fresh for the postseason. Hendricks has allowed three or fewer runs in each of his last 22 starts since May 22, the longest such streak in the majors this season. His 1.99 ERA is the lowest in the majors.
Reds: Robert Stephenson (2-3) makes his sixth start since he was promoted in September. He gave up four runs in 3 2/3 innings of a 9-2 loss at Wrigley Field on Sept. 21.