Big 9th vs. Reds helps Cubs roll into playoffs

Big 9th vs. Reds helps Cubs roll into playoffs

CINCINNATI -- With 162 games in the book and the close of the regular season here, the Cubs are ready to head into the postseason. They gave themselves an added tuneup with a ninth-inning rally on the Reds that provided a 7-4 victory on Sunday at Great American Ball Park.

Chicago was trailing by a 4-3 score and was down to its final strike when Matt Szczur hit a two-run double to right field against Raisel Iglesias. Pinch-hitter Miguel Montero opened up some added space with a two-run home run to right field off of Iglesias.

The Cubs finished 103-58, their most wins since a 104-victory season in 1910 as they finished atop the National League Central standings. Now they await the outcome of the NL Wild Card Game between the Mets and Giants to learn their opponent in the NL Division Series that is scheduled to begin on Friday at Wrigley Field.

"We kept playing the game for nine innings hard today, ended up with the win on the last day of the season," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who recorded his 200th win with the Cubs. "I think that speaks loudly about our entire group. Listen, of course we're very happy about that -- 103's a nice number. It's a nice, rounded, odd number, and we'll take it."

Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks pitched five innings with four earned runs, six hits, one walk, four strikeouts and hit a batter. Following Tony Renda's RBI double in the fourth inning, Hendricks and Chicago trailed by a 4-2 score. He tied his season low in innings pitched in a start while also tying a season high in runs allowed.

Robert Stephenson gave the Reds four innings and 88 pitches as he battled throughout his start. Stephenson gave up two earned runs, four hits and five walks with four strikeouts but managed to escape the big inning. He allowed one run on a groundout in the third, and after two walks to open the fourth, he surrendered a Willson Contreras RBI single.

Contreras made it a one-run game against Reds reliever Blake Wood with a one-out solo home run to center field in the eighth inning. Iglesias blew the save in the four-run ninth. Montero's pinch-hit two-run homer to right field was the 103rd allowed by the Reds' bullpen, and it extended the pitching staff's single-season record with the 258th overall.

Contreras' solo home run

"Given the opportunity, that won't be the last time a game gets away from Iggy or anybody else that closes," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's just the nature of the beast. We don't have a game tomorrow to bounce back with. It's a lesson moving forward. He'll learn from it and be better the next time has the opportunity."

Votto bats over .400 in stellar second half

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
No starters? No problem:
The Cubs, down 4-2 in the fifth, pulled their entire starting lineup except for Jorge Soler, who exited later, and Contreras. It was that group of players that entered late that ended up proving the difference in the ninth, with Albert Almora Jr. starting off the two-out rally with a walk and Munenori Kawasaki and Szczur adding hits. Montero topped it off as a pinch-hitter with the Statcast-estimated 383-foot, two-run shot.

Montero's two-run home run

"We had so many opportunities," Maddon said. "Two outs, nobody on and then the walk and Kawa with the line drive, and then we get down to two strikes and we benefited by the full count because the runners are in motion, and then Miggy did not miss any of that. That was absolutely tonked right there. Give our guys credit, man. That was a fun win, obviously. A lot of guys participated."

RISP-y business: After Hendricks walked Eugenio Suarez with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning, Tucker Barnhart made it a 3-0 game with a single through the right side. Barnhart has excelled at hitting in clutch moments this season and batted .355 (33-for-93) with runners in scoring position.

Cy Young worthy? The Reds were patient with Hendricks in the first, and the right-hander needed 34 pitches to get through the inning. He finished the season with a 2.13 ERA, and he is the first Cubs pitcher to lead the National League in ERA since Ray Prim did so in 1945 (2.40), and the first to lead the Majors since Bill Lee in 1938 (2.66). The outing did end one streak. Hendricks had given up three or fewer earned runs in each of his past 22 starts, but the Reds totaled four runs in five innings on Sunday.

Hendricks strikes out Peraza

"At this point in my career, now it's all said and done, definitely got to sit back and reflect a little bit on it," Hendricks said of winning the ERA title. "I just personally never thought I'd be in this situation." More >

Bryzzo: The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the first, but Stephenson ended that when he got Addison Russell to ground into an inning-ending double play. In the third, Dexter Fowler walked and reached third on Kris Bryant's single before scoring on Anthony Rizzo's groundout. Stephenson snuffed another potential rally in the fourth when he struck out Bryant on an 85-mph changeup, stranding two. Bryant ended the season with 39 homers and 102 RBIs, while Rizzo finished with 32 homers and 109 RBIs. Both NL Most Valuable Player Award candidates posted .292 batting averages.

Rizzo's RBI groundout

QUOTABLE
"Cold water is cold. That's my Yogi-ism for the day." -- Maddon, on his ice-water bath after the Cubs' win

"It's a testament to the players and their willingness to show up and play and try to play as hard as they can and the right way every day. The win-loss [record] certainly isn't something anybody is going to brag about in their history, but I do know that it's really important to me that the players know that we admire the way they went about their business and how hard they played under some really challenging circumstances. And 2017 is around the corner. We'll be getting after it with much higher expectations." -- Price, on the trying season amid a rebuild

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Reds will head into the offseason with a 68-94 record that put them at the bottom of the NL Central. Because of a win by the Rays at Texas, it means Cincinnati will have the No. 2 overall pick for the second year in a row at the 2017 MLB Draft. The Reds finished with a 36-37 record after the All-Star break.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

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

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