The Cubs continued their struggles against the Pittsburgh Pirates this year, taking one game of three in the last series and dropping their overall record against the Pirates to 4-9 on the season. With Sunday's 2-1 loss, the Cubs' record drops to 31-42, still third from the bottom in the National League ahead of the San Diego Padres (32-44) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (32-47).
The good news is that after having played 13 of the last 16 against Pittsburgh and Miami, the Cubs finally get to move on to another opponent, facing off in the next three games against the Cincinnati Reds. Then again, of the next 18 games that the Cubs will play, 15 of them will come against the Reds and the Washington Nationals, so I guess the loop just starts over with two different teams. Cincinnati comes into this series with a 37-37 record, having won two out of three in their last series with the Toronto Blue Jays. They have also won eight of their last 11. The last time the Cubs faced the Reds was in a rain-shortened series in Cincinnati on April 29 and 30, which the teams split. The Reds took two out of three in the first matchup at Wrigley Field from April 16-18.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Monday - Alfredo Simon (10-3, 3.05 ERA, 1.105 WHIP) vs. Jeff Samardzija (2-6, 2.60 ERA, 1.206 WHIP)
Tuesday - Homer Bailey (7-3, 4.68 ERA, 1.450 WHIP) vs. Jake Arrieta (3-1, 1.98 ERA, 1.200 WHIP)
Wednesday - Mat Latos (0-0, 3.86 ERA, 1.200 WHIP) vs. Edwin Jackson (5-7, 5.12 ERA, 1.494 WHIP)
This will be the first time that the Cubs will face Latos this season; he had spent the first two months of the season on the disabled list coming back from knee and elbow injuries. The Cubs have faced Simon and Bailey three times this season and have not won any of the games those two have started. Somehow the Cubs have managed to avoid facing Johnny Cueto (1.92 ERA, 0.833 WHIP) all season, and they'll duck him once again this series.
When it comes to the Reds' bullpen, all you really need to know is this: Closer Aroldis Chapman's numbers are crazy good. In 20 innings, he has allowed eight hits and has struck out 41. He had allowed only two runs all year prior to a meltdown last Friday in which he gave up four in the dreaded non-save situation. As for the rest of the bullpen... well, aside from former closer Jonathan Broxton (0.77 ERA, 0.857 WHIP), they're pretty horrible. How horrible? Let's put it this way: Even with Chapman and Broxton, the Reds' pen is second-worst in the NL in ERA (4.30) and in WHIP (1.461) and third-worst in OPS against (.731). So, yeah, they're pretty horrible. Maybe even really horrible.
The Reds offense features four starters whose OPS is currently at or above .750:
The last time the Cubs played the Reds they were able to avoid Mesoraco, who was on the disabled list at the time with a hamstring injury. They won't have that opportunity this time around. From an overall standpoint, the Reds' offense is not much better than the Cubs' offense, scoring 3.92 runs per game to the Cubs' 3.88. The Reds are also hitting .245 with a .688 OPS compared to the Cubs' .234 and .673. So, yes, they're better, but it's hard to be worse. That is, unless you're the New York Mets or the San Diego Padres.
Not much new to report on the Cubs' side, other than a very rough start to the homestand for Luis Valbuena. His 1-for-13 series against the Pirates combined with his 0-for-5 outing in the final game of the Miami series has seen his OPS drop from .861 to .798. Meanwhile, Anthony Rizzo cruises along at .900 and Starlin Castro at .811. Everyone else continues to be varying degrees of bad, from sort of meh (Junior Lake, .699) to just plain ugly (John Baker, .417).
Game 1: In the two previous games that Simon pitched against the Cubs, he allowed a total of nine hits and three runs, two earned. His last loss was on May 27 at Los Angeles in which he allowed five runs in 3⅔ innings. This should be the best pitching matchup of the series, meaning that with the Cubs' offense, the chances for Samardzija to notch his third win don't look that good.
Game 2: Arrieta has been on an absolute tear, allowing only two runs in his last four starts spanning 24⅔ innings while striking out 29. Bailey has been okay as of late, and he has been the beneficiary of excellent run support all season at 4.96 runs per game, ninth in the NL among starters with nine starts or more. I'm not sure what to expect out of this one.
Game 3: Ugh, it's Jackson's turn again. He hasn't made it to the seventh inning in a start since May 17. I guess the silver lining is that he only allowed three runs in his last start against Pittsburgh. Latos has had one really good start against Milwaukee and one pretty bad one against Toronto, so maybe this start will split the difference for him and just be average. And maybe the Cubs' bats will back up Jackson once again. And once I get to a situation where I've used two maybes, I'm not feeling as good about things.
RUSS' PREDICTION: 1-2. You know, if it would have been Samardzija against anybody else, I probably would have said 2-1. There are just too many breaks that would have to go the Cubs' way as it stands now.
NEXT STOP: The homestand comes to a conclusion as the Cubs square off for the first time this year against the Washington Nationals, including the rare scheduled day-night doubleheader on Saturday, June 28.