CHICAGO — John Lackey was cruising along when Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon hit for the right-hander in the eighth inning.
Finding some work for his bullpen is Maddon’s biggest problem these days.
Lackey got his first win in six weeks and Miguel Montero drove in three runs, helping the Cubs sweep the Cincinnati Reds with a 9-2 victory on Wednesday night.
“I definitely felt like I got better as the game went along,” Lackey said.
Kris Bryant hit his 38th homer and Dexter Fowler also connected as major league-leading Chicago moved a season-high 42 games over .500. The Cubs (97-55) also matched their win total from a year ago and lowered their magic number for clinching home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs to two over Washington.
Lackey (10-8) allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings in his first win since he beat the Angels on Aug. 9. The right-hander retired his last 14 batters and finished with just 87 pitches.
“After seven, having to get these bullpen guys some work, I had to do what we did,” Maddon said, “but he definitely could have gone deeper into the game.”
Hector Rondon got two outs and Mike Montgomery pitched a scoreless inning before Maddon went to Joe Smith for a game-ending strikeout of Steve Selsky. The Cubs clinched the NL Central title last week, giving Maddon plenty of time to take a look at various postseason possibilities.
The last-place Reds lost for the seventh time in eight games. They managed just five runs and 19 hits in the three-game series.
“It’s a challenge over the last couple of years to constantly find ourselves down in the game, especially when it’s by three, four or five runs and then rally and rally and rally,” manager Bryan Price said. “It’s a comfort zone for the opposing pitchers.”
Robert Stephenson (2-2) was pulled with two out in the fourth inning and remains winless in four September starts. The rookie was charged with four runs and a career-high eight hits.
“I just couldn’t get into a rhythm today,” he said.
Jose Peraza hit a tying RBI single in Cincinnati’s two-run second, but Chicago pulled away from there. Montero hit an RBI single in the third and a two-run single with two out in the sixth. The veteran catcher also scored on Michael Lorenzen’s balk in the fifth.
Bryant capped the scoring with a two-run shot to left in the seventh. It was Bryant’s 10th homer of the year against Cincinnati, tied for the second most for a single season against the Reds.
Montero, Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez each had three of Chicago’s 15 hits, and Fowler scored three times from the leadoff spot.
ABOUT THAT ROTATION
Chicago right-hander Kyle Hendricks, one of the leading contenders for the NL Cy Young Award, will start on seven days’ rest Monday at Pittsburgh, and the Cubs will have a bullpen day with several pitchers on Tuesday.
“It’s to look a lot of different things right now,” Maddon said. “Potentially line things up, potentially look at different people in different roles. … There’s all kinds of different things we’re working on right now to try to make it a constructive week and we get a really a final good look at some guys, get them a chance to possibly be in a role that they might be utilized in in the postseason.”
Reds: Price said RHP Homer Bailey (biceps) could start Sunday at Milwaukee after there were “no negatives” following his Tuesday bullpen session. “He’s looked very good to me,” Price said. “I think if he’s 100 percent I’d like to see him pitch.” If Bailey can’t go, Price said LHP Brandon Finnegan or RHP Tim Adleman would start.
Cubs: LHP Jon Lester said he was fine a day after he had a liner go off his right wrist in the sixth inning of Chicago’s 6-1 victory on Tuesday night. … OF Jorge Soler (tightness on his right side) is doing well, according to Maddon. “Probably by Friday hopefully we’ll be able to interject him in the game,” Maddon said.
Reds: Following a day off, the Reds begin a weekend series at Milwaukee. Cincinnati RHP Anthony DeSclafani (8-4, 3.15 ERA) gets the ball on Friday night.
Cubs: RHP Jake Arrieta (17-7, 2.96 ERA) faces St. Louis RHP Mike Leake (9-10, 4.54 ERA) on Friday afternoon. Maddon said he plans to play the weekend series “straight up” out of respect for the Cardinals’ competition in the wild-card race.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap