CHICAGO -- Javier Baez smacked a first-inning grand slam and Kris Bryant launched a 450-foot solo shot to back Jon Lester and power the Cubs to a 9-5 victory on Thursday over the Reds at Wrigley Field, and post Chicago's first series sweep of the season.
Baez connected in a five-run first inning and added an RBI single in the fifth to hand the Reds their sixth straight loss, the team's longest skid since dropping 11 in a row in May 2016. Last year, the Cubs were on a roll, with a 29-11 record after 40 games, but it's been a little tougher for the defending World Series champs this season. With Thursday's win, they're 21-19.
"We pitched really well," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the series. "Our starting pitching was pretty good, and for me, it's always the biggest part. The starting pitching drives the engine. When that's happening, you have a chance to hit better."
Lester remained unbeaten at Wrigley Field in his past 18 home starts, improving to 13-0 in that stretch. The lefty scattered six hits over six-plus innings, striking out five and helped himself by hitting a sacrifice fly. The Cubs have won 16 of those 18 starts.
"We're trending in the right direction, which is good," Lester said. "This was a good series and hopefully we can keep it going."
Bryant topped Baez in terms of home run distance, launching the first pitch he saw in the fourth from fellow Las Vegas native Amir Garrett to straightaway center. The ball landed on top of a suite in center field.
Garrett was making his first big league start since May 6, and he served up six runs on five hits over four innings. In his last Minor League start last Friday, he struck out all six of the batters he faced. The lefty wasn't as dominant on Thursday. Reds manager Bryan Price was asked if sending Garrett to Triple-A Louisville to limit his innings played a role in his ineffective outing.
"No blame, zero blame," Price replied. "He's responsible for his successes. He's responsible for his struggles, as are all the players. I'm responsible for my decisions. We're all responsible for all of our stuff so there are no excuses."
"I don't make no excuses, everything felt normal, everything was good," Garrett said. "In another five days, I'll be all right."
The Reds' starting pitchers are 0-5 during the current skid, and no starter has gone more than five innings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED First things first: Patience, luck and some pop were the keys in the Chicago first. With one out, Bryant walked and Anthony Rizzo blooped a single to short center field that shortstop Zack Cozart pursued before losing the ball in the sun. One out later, Willson Contreras walked to load the bases and Addison Russell then walked to force in a run. Baez launched a 1-2 slider from Garrett into the left-field bleachers for his third career grand slam and a 5-1 lead. It was the second grand slam by the Cubs this year, and second against the Reds. Contreras connected on April 22 against Cody Reed. Garrett needed 35 pitches to get through the inning.
"Honestly, I saw it go up and didn't see the ball until it hit the ground," Cozart said. "I had my sunglasses on, I had eye black on, it was just perfect. Usually in that situation, the ball will come out of the sun at some point. It just stayed. It obviously sucked."
Red legs: The Reds rattled off three straight hits to open the seventh, including an RBI single by Arismendy Alcantara, and chase Lester. Hector Rondon took over and Billy Hamilton greeted him with a double into the gap in right-center field, which might have been an inside-the-park homer if it didn't get stuck in the ivy on the outfield wall. One run scored on the ground-rule double, and the Reds added two more on Cozart's groundout and RBI single by Adam Duvall.
"After that first inning, I got in a groove. I thought some pitches I had in the first were questionable, and I think if I get those pitches, it changes the whole outcome of the game. I felt pretty good today. I was able to, after the first, settle down and do what I do." -- Garrett
"You see the at-bats, and see him grow each at-bat. We knew coming in two years ago about his swing and miss and all that stuff, and he's made the adjustments to stay around. Obviously, his defensive side of the game helps that. You see him grow every day as a hitter and see him make adjustments and have good at-bats and do things in a game that can really change the game for us on a positive side." -- Lester, on Baez
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Baez's grand slam was the first in the first inning of a game by a Cubs player since Junior Lake did so on Sept. 6, 2013. Other Cubs to hit first-inning slams since 2000 include Mark DeRosa (June 3, 2007) and Aramis Ramirez (June 25, 2005).
Since the start of last season, the Cubs are 10-2 at home against the Reds, and overall the Cubs are 23-5 in their last 28 games against the Reds, including five three-game sweeps.
"I guess we just had a good plan," Maddon said. "Cincinnati is a good hitting ballpark, Wrigley [Field] is good when the wind is blowing out. Their pitchers have to pitch in a tough element all the time."
WHAT'S NEXT Reds: Following a 1-6 road trip, the Reds will return to Great American Ball Park to begin a five-game home stand. First up is a three-game series vs. the Rockies that starts at 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday. Lisalverto Bonilla, who returned from Triple-A Louisville and threw a complete game in a loss to the Giants on Saturday, will make his second start for Cincinnati.
Cubs:Eddie Butler will make his second start for the Cubs on Friday when they open a weekend series against the Brewers. Butler threw six shutout innings in his first outing against the Cardinals, giving up two hits. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT from Wrigley Field.