Offense shows signs, but Craig Kimbrel shaky as Cubs split doubleheader with Reds

First baseman Anthony Rizzo finished 3-for-5 with two homers in the Cubs’ 3-0 win in Game 1. Craig Kimbrel blew his first save of the season in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss in the nightcap.

SHARE Offense shows signs, but Craig Kimbrel shaky as Cubs split doubleheader with Reds

Albert Cesare/AP

Good luck has been tough to come by for the Cubs, and after dropping three games in a row to sub-.500 teams, it was time for them to make some good luck of their own.

The doubleheader Saturday provided as good an opportunity as any to do just that. The Cubs sit atop the National League Central, and after splitting the doubleheader against the Reds, they looked more like the team that started the first half so fast.

“We know we’re a good team,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s just about doing it every single day.”

It was the little things that helped earn the Cubs a 3-0 victory in Game 1, and they looked like a well-oiled machine early, using a successful hit-and-run by Willson Contreras and RBI double by Jason Kipnis to score the first run.

Yu Darvish didn’t need much help in leading the North Siders to the early victory, but the Cubs’ ace got some much-needed insurance via two solo home runs by Anthony Rizzo. He also got some late help from his defense.

“I think these guys came in really prepared,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘Coming in doing the little things, the game plan was to attack. They did a good job of swinging at pitches in the zone, really good at-bats. And when you get starting pitching like we got today [from Darvish], we didn’t need many [runs].’’

In the Cubs’ 6-5 loss in the nightcap, the Reds made some costly mistakes. Nico Hoerner lofted a lazy fly ball down the right-field line in the fifth inning with the Cubs trailing by a run. Former Cubs outfielder Nick Castellanos dropped the ball, allowing Hoerner to advance to second base.

Two batters later, Ian Happ sliced an RBI double down the left-field line to tie the score at 4.

Jason Heyward led off the sixth inning with a single, and after walks to David Bote and Kipnis with no outs, Hoerner made things happen again by hitting a sacrifice fly.

Craig Kimbrel’s blown save in the seventh inning prevented the Cubs from sweeping the twin bill in Cincinnati.

The veteran closer had been making significant progress after his early-season struggles, but he took a step back in this game, walking two batters and throwing three wild pitches that allowed the Reds to score two runs and complete their comeback. He struck out two.

“I don’t want to call blowing saves or losing a game part of the process, but I also wouldn’t call it a step back,” Kimbrel said. “I feel like my stuff is still good. I was able to make big pitches when I needed to. Just had a ball get through the legs, and we had a blooper drop. I walked guys, and that hurt us. You can’t put guys on, and you can’t throw wild pitches.”

After last week’s blowout loss to the White Sox, Rizzo said the way the Cubs were playing didn’t represent the type of team they were. This doubleheader gave them a shot to get back to basics. He saw that team in flashes against the Reds.

“Yeah, especially in Game 1 with Trevor Bauer. He’s one of the best in the business, and we made him grind,” Rizzo said. “That’s our MO. When we can get one through nine grinding like that and make the pitcher go deep into counts and not just breeze through a couple of batters, it makes it pay off in the long run.’’

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