CINCINNATI — It looks as if Ben Zobrist might be rounding into postseason form, just in time for the Chicago Cubs.
Zobrist homered twice and drove in three runs, helping Chicago beat the Cincinnati Reds 7-3 on Friday night.
“I’m feeling a lot better than I felt in June, July and August,” said Zobrist, who helped Kansas City win the World Series last year. “Hopefully, that translates into October.”
The Cubs have the majors’ best record and clinched the NL Central title with plenty of time to spare, giving Joe Maddon the luxury of resting his regulars. The 35-year-old Zobrist didn’t play on Monday or Thursday, and he is 11 for 22 with two homers and eight RBIs in his last seven games.
“He’s rested,” Maddon said. “With guys like that, that’s why you want time off, and (Friday) is what it can look like.”
Jake Buchanan (1-0) pitched five shutout innings as Chicago improved to 14-3 against Cincinnati this season with two games to play. The right-hander allowed two hits in his first start since 2014 with Houston.
“Outstanding, wasn’t he?” Maddon said. “He controlled his emotions and threw strikes. He was very efficient. He threw strikes. We caught the ball — a typical formula for us.”
It was Buchanan’s first appearance since he pitched one inning on Sept. 5. He didn’t know what to expect when he took the mound.
“Once I got past the first batter, it felt really good to be back in a ballgame,” Buchanan said. “I was just hoping to throw strikes and compete.”
Anthony Rizzo also drove in two runs for Chicago, which was coming off a rare tie in Pittsburgh due to rain.
Joey Votto hit a two-run homer in the ninth for last-place Cincinnati, which announced before the game that manager Bryan Price would return next season. Josh Smith (3-3) was charged with two runs and three hits in five-plus innings.
Price and the Reds agreed to a one-year contract with a team option. The entire coaching staff also has been offered contracts for 2017.
“There is a mutual desire to stay connected,” Price said. “For me, it’s an unbelievable opportunity. It is a storied franchise. I have really enjoyed my coaches and my team.”
The Cubs, headed for the playoffs for the second straight year, announced contract extensions for general manager Jed Hoyer and player development director Jason McLeod. Their new deals run through the 2021 season, mirroring president of baseball operations Theo Epstein’s contract announced on Wednesday.
Smith retired his first 12 batters before Zobrist led off the fifth with a drive to right for his first homer since Sept. 12. The All-Star also connected for a two-run shot in Chicago’s four-run eighth, No. 17 on the year.
“It was good,” Smith said. “I challenged hitters early and got a lot of early contact to pitch pretty deep in the game. The ball to Zobrist, I missed my spot.”
Chicago’s first three batters reached in the sixth, chasing Smith, and Addison Russell’s RBI double made it 3-1.
Zobrist’s homers were Chicago’s 38th and 39th against the Reds this season, the most by one team against Cincinnati pitching in one season. The 1954 Brooklyn Dodgers and 1957 Milwaukee Braves previously shared the record with 38.
Kris Bryant’s eighth-inning single gave him a least one hit in each of Chicago’s eight games at Great American Ball Park so far this season.
Votto, who left Thursday’s game at St. Louis in the eighth inning with a cut on his chin that required seven stitches, texted Price at 3 a.m. Friday saying that he would be ready to play.
Cubs: OF Jorge Soler (discomfort on his right side) will be re-evaluated on Saturday, Maddon said.
Reds: 2B Brandon Phillips, sidelined by soreness in his left wrist and hand, was being examined Friday by members of the Reds medical staff, Price said.
Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (19-4) seeks his first career 20-win season in his last start. He is 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA in four starts against Cincinnati this season.
Reds: RHP Tim Adleman (3-4), who set a career high with seven innings in his last start on Monday, will try to close out his season with back-to-back wins.