CINCINNATI -- Jon Lester struck out nine, Austin Jackson drove in a career-high five runs, and Starlin Castro had four hits, including a sixth-inning leadoff home run and RBI double, to lift the Cubs to a 10-3 victory Wednesday night and hand the Reds their 11th straight loss.
The win put the Cubs within 2 1/2 games of the Pirates for the top National League Wild Card spot and home-field advantage in the one-game playoff on Oct. 7. The Pirates split a doubleheader against the Cardinals on Wednesday, with St. Louis' second-game win clinching the NL Central.
Lester, making his final regular-season start, retired the final 20 batters he faced and now holds the franchise's single-season record for strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher with 207. Jake Arrieta is scheduled to start the NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser, with Lester in line for the first game of the NL Division Series if the Cubs advance.
"We have a few more [games] to go," Lester said. "It was a good one to end [the regular season] on. Nice to finish on that note."
Anthony DeSclafani took the loss Wednesday, and the Reds now have dropped 11 straight for the first time since June 14-24, 1998.
"I know it's ugly. This doesn't even look like baseball right now, as ugly as these games are," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "But you've to compete better than we've competed here in September. It's miserable to watch for all of us. I'm sure the players feel the same way I do. There's really no satisfaction at all from playing this poorly and losing this frequently."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Milestone K's: When Lester fanned Ivan De Jesus Jr. for the second out in the second inning, it was his 200th strikeout of the season, a mark he has now reached four times. De Jesus struck out again in the fifth, which was Lester's 203rd K of the season, and he now holds the franchise record for most by a left-handed pitcher in a season, topping Ken Holtzman's mark of 202, set in 1970. Arrieta also has reached 200 strikeouts, and he and Lester are the first pair of Cubs pitchers to do so in the same season since Kerry Wood and Mark Prior in 2003. Lester also has topped 200 innings this season for the fourth straight season and seventh time in his career.
"He's probably peaking at the right time," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Lester.
DeSclafani wraps first full year: The night began optimistically for DeSclafani, who retired his first eight batters in a row with six strikeouts -- including the first four batters in a row. It ended a four-game streak for the rotation in which the opponent scored in the top of the first. In the top of the third, he had Lester in an 0-2 count before throwing four-straight balls for the walk that setup trouble. Although he gave up runs in each of the next four innings, DeSclafani completed 2015 with a foundation to build on. He finished his rookie season with Cincinnati with a 9-13 record and 4.05 ERA, with a team-high 31 starts and 184 2/3 innings pitched.
"I was feeling good up until that point there," DeSclafani said of the Lester plate appearance. "I think maybe I was trying to get a little greedy and go for the punchout. I ended up falling behind the guy, and all of a sudden, I'm walking him. Things kind of spiraled there and I kind of hit a wall going into the next inning. I just wasn't able to finish the game I wanted to." More >
Jackson leads bench brigade: On Wednesday, the Cubs started five players who were not in the lineup on Tuesday. The depth paid off as Jackson delivered a two-run double in the third, an RBI double in the fifth, and a two-run single in the eighth. Castro, who also did not start on Tuesday, posted his 11th four-hit game, just missing hitting for the cycle by a triple.
Castro led the NL with a .426 average in September, with five doubles, five homers, one triple and 20 RBIs. Maddon hasn't said who will start the Wild Card Game at second base, but Castro is making a strong case for the assignment.
"Starlin is a great teammate, he's a very good teammate, and right now he's playing at the top of his game," Maddon said. "He's playing a complete game of baseball."
Castro, who was benched in early August and then moved to second base, has made adjustments at the plate. They've paid off.
"I never put my head down," Castro said. "It means more that we got into the playoffs."
A lead for the Reds: Following Tyler Holt's first-inning bloop single in his Reds debut and a Brandon Phillips double, Jay Bruce sacrifice fly to center field gave Cincinnati a 1-0 lead. It the Reds' first lead since Sept. 24 vs. the Mets, but it proved to be only a brief advantage.
"We're behind early. We're not scoring any runs. We're playing against teams that are excited to be going to the postseason, and we're just finishing out our year. The value is these guys are taking the ball and having to go out there and know what it's like to be in September. -- Price, on what it means for rookies like DeSclafani pitching this late in the season.
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The Reds have been outscored, 78-25, during their losing streak. The last time the team dropped 12 in a row was 1993.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Jason Hammel will close the Cubs' series against the Reds on Thursday. The right-hander is coming off a loss to the Pirates in which he cruised through four innings, then gave up five straight hits, including a three-run homer to Jordy Mercer. Hammel does not have a decision in three starts against the Reds this season, and has a career 0-1 record and 4.87 ERA over eight games. First pitch is scheduled for 11:35 a.m. CT from Great American Ball Park.
Reds: Cincinnati will start John Lamb in the 12:35 p.m. ET home finale. Lamb is coming off the shortest start of his brief career -- two innings in a 10-2 loss to the Mets on Saturday, with five earned runs and three hits, including two homers, allowed.