While it seemed almost inevitable that Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel would be traded away, the timing of the move certainly poses a quandary for the Cubs' upcoming five-game series with the Cincinnati Reds, namely:
Who's going to pitch, and when?
After losing two games out of three to the Washington Nationals over the weekend, the Cubs' record stands at 38-48, still better than three teams in the National League and tied with the New York Mets (39-49) and San Diego Padres (39-49). Cincinnati comes into the series with a record of 45-42, fourth in the Central and six games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, who they just defeated in two games out of three this weekend at Great American Ball Park. The Cubs and Reds split the first series played at GABP this year, which was shortened to two games by rain; that game is being made up in this series as part of the doubleheader on July 8.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Monday: Edwin Jackson (5-8, 4.99 ERA, 1.526 WHIP) vs. Mike Leake (6-7, 3.47 ERA, 1.184 WHIP)
Tuesday Game 1: Travis Wood (7-6, 4.62 ERA, 1.460 WHIP) vs. Johnny Cueto (8-6, 1.99 ERA, 0.868 WHIP)
Tuesday Game 2: Tsuyoshi Wada (MLB debut) vs. David Holmberg (2014 debut)
Wednesday: TBD vs, Alfredo Simon (11-3, 2.78 ERA, 1.055 WHIP)
Thursday: TBD vs. Homer Bailey (8-5, 4.15 ERA, 1.349 WHIP)
The Reds reported on Sunday that Holmberg will be called up from Triple-A Louisville to start the second game of the Tuesday doubleheader. In his 10 starts at Indianapolis, he was 0-4 with a 5.28 ERA and 1.850 WHIP. He has one start at the major-league level in his career, which he made in 2013 when he was still with the Arizona Diamondbacks. As for the Cubs... well, after Tuesday, at this point anything's still possible. Candidates for the Wednesday and Thursday starts include Chris Rusin and Dallas Beeler. It won't be Carlos Villanueva, as manager Rick Renteria said after Sunday's game that Villanueva is returning to the bullpen.
Also, Kyle Hendricks was pulled after two innings Sunday in his start for Triple-A Iowa, fueling speculation that he could be on his way to the big club as well. Stay tuned for further updates which will likely be coming soon, and check the daily game previews for updated starting-pitcher matchups.
The Reds offense features three starters whose OPS is currently at or above .750:
Mesoraco has not slowed down all season; in the past two weeks, he is hitting .294 with three homers and seven RBI, posting a 1.047 OPS. Backup Brayan Pena has also been effective in limited action with a .938 OPS in the same time frame, although he will miss part of the series after being placed on the paternity list on Sunday. Another performance worthy of note is that of Skip Schumaker in left field, who has posted a .346 average and .832 OPS over the past two weeks while sharing duty with Ryan Ludwick.
It's possible that Votto will not be playing in this series and will be heading to the disabled list with the same strained left quad that kept him out of action earlier this season, according to a report by Ken Rosenthal. Frazier played first base in Sunday's game with Ramon Santiago (.186 AVG, .485 OPS) playing third.
For the Cubs, the hot streak continues for Justin Ruggiano, whose 7-for-13 weekend against the Nationals sent his OPS rocketing to .840. Anthony Rizzo continues to lead the team, but that lead is dwindling with each series, now down to .871. Luis Valbuena has been struggling mightily since the Cubs hit the road, with a 2-for-21 road trip brining his OPS down to .763. Starlin Castro is holding steady at .797.
Game 1: Leake had put together two excellent starts at the end of June before getting roughed up a bit in his last start at San Diego. He only gave up three runs but allowed 11 hits in the process. As for Jackson... well, he had his one good outing out of six his last time out, so I'm not expecting an encore.
Game 2: This will be the first time that the Cubs will be facing Cueto this season after dodging him in the three previous series. His ERA and WHIP pretty much speak for themselves. This game looks like it should be a tough go, given that Wood has been inconsistent at best this year.
Game 3: It's the battle of the Triple-A call-ups, and for Wada it's the beginning of auditions for the two open roster spots. Wada has done extremely well down at Iowa, posting a 9-5 record with a 2.66 ERA and 1.161 WHIP over 16 starts. Hopefully that will translate well to the big club.
Games 4 and 5: The Cubs have not had any luck so far this season against Simon; they have scored three runs in his two starts. Their results against Bailey have been mixed, getting blanked in late April but posting four runs against him in a 7-4 win in late June. My personal hope is that Beeler and Hendricks make the starts on Wednesday and Thursday.
RUSS' PREDICTION: 2-3. Even that feels a bit hopeful. I could very easily see the Cubs leaving Cincinnati with only one win, but I'll go with two figuring that anything can happen.
NEXT STOP: The Cubs return home for their final series before the All-Star break, playing a three-game set against the Atlanta Braves.