3 takeaways from the Chicago Cubs’ 4-game split in Cincinnati, including hitters stepping up and Jameson Taillon’s slow starts

Tribune Content Agency

CINCINNATI — In moments late during Sunday’s back-and-forth series finale at Great American Ball Park, it felt more like a Chicago Cubs home game than a road atmosphere against a division rival with postseason implications.

The Cubs delivered the decisive blow in their 15-7 victory with a seven-run eighth inning after they exchanged leads with the Cincinnati Reds four times through the first two innings. A boisterous “Let’s go, Cubbies!” chant started among the 37,029 fans after Dansby Swanson’s RBI double capped the big inning by extending the lead to 12-5.

“We just kept having at-bats, started off really well,” manager David Ross said. “Fighting back for (starting pitcher Jameson Taillon). We kept it close. Offensively we were great all day.”

As the Cubs (73-64) return home from the one-city trip for a seven-game homestand, here are three takeaways from the series in Cincinnati.

1. Different day, different hitter steps up.

The Cubs have touted their deep lineup and how anyone in the lineup or on the bench can affect the game.

Cody Bellinger (three home runs, seven RBIs), Ian Happ (six hits, three extra-base hits, seven RBIs) and Seiya Suzuki (five hits, two extra-base hits) provided the most offensive consistency during the four-game series. But when they needed the offense to show up Sunday, Nick Madrigal and Mike Tauchman stepped up.

Madrigal stuck to his strength as a great high fastball hitter. He went above the zone twice to connect for a double off the left-field wall that tied the game in the second and a two-run single that put the Cubs ahead 7-5 in the eighth.

After watching replays of the two hits, Madrigal realized the pitches were a lot higher than he thought when he swung at them. He has been working in the cage to stay on top of fastballs.

“In that moment I was trying to get the ball in the outfield, so I was looking for something up and was able to get the barrel on it,” Madrigal said. “In the back of my mind, I was trying to get on top of it and had a good idea (Alexis Diaz) was coming fastball in that moment.”

Tauchman’s fingerprints on the win included four hits with a double, three runs scored and three RBIs. He entered Sunday hitting .138 with a .286 on-base percentage in his last 19 games. He did not record an extra-base hit in that stretch (70 plate appearances).

“I feel like that’s kind of how our offense goes,” Tauchman said. “It starts with a soft single here, soft single there, and then we just continue to put together good at-bats and it feels contagious.

“There’s ups and downs this season and you try to stay consistent as best you can. But when it’s not going well, you feel it and you want to contribute, and that goes for everybody in all aspects.”

2. Jameson Taillon overcomes early runs again.

A familiar pattern has developed for Taillon since the All-Star break. The veteran right-hander hasn’t been able to consistently deliver zeroes in the first inning.

Over his last 10 starts coming out of the break, Taillon has surrendered a team-high 11 first-inning runs. That figure includes back-to-back solo homers Sunday after Bellinger’s RBI single in the top of the inning gave him a lead to work with.

As he often does, Taillon kept the Cubs in it once he settled down after the second, allowing five runs and seven hits in 5⅔ innings. He felt he threw too many strikes in the zone early to set up the Reds’ aggressiveness.

“I don’t know if there’s a common thread,” Taillon said. “I mean, on the season, it does seem like the lefties are punishing me a little bit. When I’m way behind, it’s not good, and when I’m way ahead, maybe take more shots outside the zone.”

Finding consistency from start to start from Taillon down the stretch is a must.

3. The Cubs control their destiny.

Sure, the Cubs would have preferred to win the series against the Reds, which also would have given them a postseason tiebreaker if the teams have the same record after Game 162.

But the Cubs’ path to the postseason remains in their hands. The San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks, this week’s opponents at Wrigley Field, ended Sunday in a four-way tie for the final National League wild-card spot with the Reds and Miami Marlins, three games behind the Cubs.

The Cubs can put distance between them and the pursuing pack of teams with a strong week plus another series against the Diamondbacks on Sept. 15-17 in Arizona.

The Cubs have lost only two of their last 15 series. If they keep that up in the last four weeks, there shouldn’t be much doubt entering the final week about whether they’re a postseason team. And they might even have a division title on the line when they head to Milwaukee for the last regular-season series.

“Every game is so important and they have been for a while now,” Ross said. “The narrative when we were playing the bad teams was we’ve got to beat them and then we’ve got to chase down Milwaukee. We did that.

“We’ve got a month left of the season — they’re all important now. Try not to emphasize too much, but today’s win was big.”