Cubs win 97th, inch closer to NL's No. 1 seed

Cubs win 97th, inch closer to NL's No. 1 seed

CHICAGO -- The march to 100 wins rolled steadily along for the Cubs.

Led by Miguel Montero's three hits and three RBIs, a three-game series sweep came without much difficulty as the Cubs claimed their 97th victory -- 9-2 over the Reds on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field. Chicago is three shy of its first 100-win season since 1935 and has a magic number of 2 to clinch home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series.

"That's a number I've never achieved on the win side," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the goal to reach 100. "I've achieved it on the loss side. Achieving that doesn't feel good. That was my first year as a manager with the Devil Rays. We exceeded 100 that year."

Cubs starter John Lackey pitched seven strong innings and gave up two earned runs on five hits and one walk with four strikeouts. After a one-out ground-rule double by Joey Votto in the third inning of a 2-2 game, Lackey retired his final 14 batters in a row.

"It definitely felt like I got better as the game went along," Lackey said. "I kind of figured out how they were approaching the game and then made a nice adjustment. [Montero] called a great game and had a couple big hits for me. He was definitely huge for me tonight."

Reds rookie starter Robert Stephenson lasted 3 2/3 innings while allowing four earned runs and eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts. The go-ahead run scored in the third inning on Montero's two-out single to left field that scored Ben Zobrist, who reached on a one-out walk. In the fourth inning, Dexter Fowler hit a leadoff homer to right field off of Stephenson and Montero scored a fifth run in the fifth inning when a balk was called on reliever Michael Lorenzen, and then added a two-out, two-run single in the sixth to blow the game open.

The NL Central champion Cubs are 13-3 vs. the Reds this season, including 7-2 at home. Chicago's 97 wins match its 2015 total. Cincinnati has dropped seven of its last eight games.

"It's a challenge over the last couple years to constantly find ourselves down in the game, especially when it's by three or four or five runs, and then rally and rally and rally," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's a comfort zone for the opposing pitchers. Lackey was fine today. He's always sharp, he always throws strikes, he's always ahead, his pitch counts are low. But he throws strikes, which means that there's pitches there to hit."

Mighty Miggy: Montero went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, driving in all three runs with a pair of two-out singles. After launching a walk-off home run on Friday to beat the Brewers in the 10th inning, Montero continues to swing a hot bat. Since Aug. 20, a span of 16 games, he's hitting .372 (16-for-43) with three doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs.

Montero's two-run single

"This is where you talk about September provides its own energy," Maddon said. "These guys are not fatigued. They're actually very excited and they're really doing a lot of good things."

Third out at the plate: The Reds scored two runs in the second inning vs. Lackey to tie the game. With one out, Steve Selsky's RBI double to the wall in right-center scored Scott Schebler from first base before Tucker Barnhart walked. Later, Jose Peraza's two-out single to left field scored Selsky. Barnhart was waved around by third-base coach Billy Hatcher, but was thrown out at the plate on a good throw by Chris Coghlan to end the inning.

Coghlan nabs Barnhart at home

Dex, Bryant go deep: Fowler's homer was his 13th of the season. Kris Bryant hit the Cubs' second homer of the game in the seventh, with his landing on Waveland Ave. Bryant's 38th blast had an exit velocity of 109 mph and traveled a projected 411 feet, according to Statcast™. It scored Fowler, who went 2-for-4 and scored three runs. The Cubs are 49-12 when Fowler scores at least one run and 14-1 when he scores at least two.

Fowler's solo shot

"I don't really watch the home runs, where they go or anything, but certainly this is one of the best parks to hit a home run in, just because you can hit it onto the street there," Bryant said. "It's been a really fun year, so to say that any home run onto Waveland, you get used to it, I don't think I'll ever get used to it. It's a lot of fun."

Stephenson labors: The eight hits Stephenson allowed were a career high and he threw 98 pitches over his brief start. That included a 33-pitch first inning where he gave up two runs after hitting his first batter, Fowler, with a pitch. Of the 22 batters Stephenson faced, 12 started with a 1-0 count. More >

"I just didn't have great command today," said Stephenson, who has a 6.30 ERA in four starts this month since being recalled from Triple-A. "It's tough to pitch when you're behind in the count, which I was behind a lot today. I think it just really wasn't going to go my way if I couldn't get ahead on the guys."

"Turnabout's fair play. Sometimes you catch yourself looking. It is, that's what we used to do to the Cubs. We used to go out there and roll them, come in and here and sweep a series, which was fairly common. At least win two out of three. They've had our number these last couple years. That's the back and forth of the game." -- Price, on the Cubs' recent domination of the Reds

"I go home. I watch Netflix. I don't watch any sports. This is the time of the year when you have to go home, relax, and don't worry about what anybody else is doing. Just go out and play your game." -- Bryant, on the NL home run race against Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, who hit his NL-leading 39th on Wednesday

When Bryant took Ross Ohlendorf deep, it was his 10th homer vs. the Reds. It's tied for the second-most homers hit in a single season in Cincinnati franchise history. The Cubs' 37 homers vs. the Reds is also the second-highest total against the club, matching the 1937 Brooklyn Dodgers.

In the first inning on a Javier Baez grounder, Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez barehanded the ball and threw to first base in a close play. Baez was ruled safe as it appeared the throw pulled Votto's foot off the bag. After a replay review, officials determined the call stands.

Baez's infield RBI single

A crew-chief review was requested by the Reds in the seventh when it appeared that Suarez grounded to third base for an inning-ending double play. Upon review, Suarez touched first base before the throw arrived and the call was overturned.

Suarez safe at first on review

Reds: Following an off-day on Thursday, the Reds' road trip moves on to Miller Park for a three-game series that begins on Friday at 8:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Anthony DeSclafani will face the Brewers for the first time since beating them on July 15 with three runs allowed over six innings in a 5-4 win.

Cubs: After Thursday's off-day, right-hander Jake Arrieta will start on Friday at 1:20 p.m. CT in the opener of the final regular-season series against the Cardinals. Arrieta is 5-1 with a 1.09 ERA in eight career starts against St. Louis at Wrigley Field.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

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.

Brian Hedger is a contributor to based in Chicago and covered the Cubs on Wednesday.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.