Cubs club Reds, sweep series

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[September 22, 2016]  CHICAGO -- John Lackey has made another big stride in his rebound from an August stay on the disabled list.

The Cubs right-hander picked up his first victory since Aug. 9 and joined four fellow starters with double-digit win totals as the Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-2 on Wednesday night.

"I've only had a couple of games since coming off the DL, so I'm still building up a little bit," said Lackey, who allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings. "I felt like I got better tonight as far as arm strength. I should be right on time for when this gets real."

Lackey (10-8), who missed 19 games with a right shoulder strain in August, had four strikeouts and walked just one while throwing 87 pitches.

"I thought he kept getting better," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "I thought his tempo was better, the quality of pitches came up. Everything got better. By the time we took him out, I thought he was throwing his best."

Miguel Montero went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, Ben Zobrist added three hits and scored twice, and Kris Bryant clubbed his 38th homer of the season to help pace Chicago.

The Cubs (97-55) matched the win total from their 2015 wild-card season and reduced their magic number to two to secure National League postseason home-field advantage.

Cincinnati starter Robert Stephenson (2-2) worked an abbreviated 3 2/3-inning outing and took the loss as the Reds (63-89) dropped their third straight.

"It'll be a real challenge for Robert to be able harness his stuff and control the strike zone," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "It's not as simple as it sounds. There's probably some essential adjustments that will have to be made."

The Cubs put two runners on in the bottom of the first and Zobrist's sharply lined single to left drove home Fowler from second for a 1-0 lead. Javier Baez then beat out a two-out infield single that scored Anthony Rizzo to make it 2-0.

Steve Selsky got one run back for the Reds in the second with his one-out double to the right field wall to score Scott Schebler. With two outs, Jose Peraza singled to left to score Selsky to force a 2-2 tie. But Tucker Barnhart's bid for a go-ahead run was thwarted when he was thrown out at home.

The Cubs reclaimed the lead in the third on Montero's two-out single to left, scoring Zobrist from second.

Fowler led off the fourth with his 13th homer of the season -- a solo shot on a 3-2 pitch -- for a 4-2 Cubs lead. Two outs and another hit later, Stephenson was out of the game in favor of reliever Matt Magill.

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Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) is greeted by catcher Miguel Montero (47) after scoring a run against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Lorenzen, the Reds' third pitcher of the night, was called for a balk in the fifth inning, allowing Montero to score from third for a 5-2 Cubs lead.

Montero's two-out single in the sixth drove in Zobrist and Jason Heyward for a 7-2 lead. Bryant's seventh-inning homer scored Dexter Fowler to make it 9-2.

Stephenson threw 98 pitches in 3 2/3 innings, allowing four runs and eight hits. He struck out two and walked two.

Price, meanwhile, said Lackey was tough to beat.

"Lackey was fine today, he's always sharp, he's always throwing strikes, he's always ahead (and) his pitch counts are low," Price said. "He throws strikes, which means there were pitches there to hit. But digging ourselves out of holes like this is just not the recipe to win on a regular basis."

NOTES: Cincinnati has lost five of its last six series to the Cubs, winning only a July 4-6 series as it took two of three. ... The Reds have Thursday off before opening a three-game weekend series in Milwaukee, where RHP Anthony DeSclafani (8-4, 3.15 ERA) will face a Brewers pitcher to be named. ... Rookie pitchers have started 168 of Cincinnati's 475 games (35 percent) in the past three seasons. ... Chicago also has Thursday off before concluding the home regular season with a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. ... RHP Jake Arrieta (17-7, 2.96 ERA) meets Cardinals RHP Mike Leake (9-10, 4.54 ERA) in the opener on Friday. ... LHP Jon Lester's 18th victory on Tuesday marks the most by a Cubs lefty in a season since Dick Ellsworth's 22 wins in 1963. ... Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Lester will get two more starts, giving him a shot at his first 20-win season.

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