Well, it wasn’t the way I would have scripted it, but the Cubs did manage to take one game against the Milwaukee Brewers, thanks to strong performances by both Jason Hammel and Starlin Castro. Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon sealed the deal and gave the Cubs a 4-0 win, which is also their first shutout of the year. Their record now stands at 8-16, and they now make the journey 400 miles to the southeast to take on the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds come into this series with an 11-14 record after getting swept in Atlanta, including losing a 10-inning pitchers’ duel on Sunday to the Braves, 1-0. The Cubs are 1-2 against the Reds this year and were 4-5 against them in 2013 at Great American Ballpark.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Monday – Jeff Samardzija (0-2, 1.53 ERA, 1.104 WHIP) vs. Alfredo Simon (3-1, 1.30 ERA, 0.940 WHIP)
Tuesday – Edwin Jackson (1-2, 5.02 ERA, 1.640 WHIP) vs. Tony Cingrani (2-2, 2.86 ERA, 1.235 WHIP)
Wednesday – Carlos Villanueva (1-5, 10.42 ERA, 2.211 WHIP) / Jake Arrieta (NR) vs. Homer Bailey (1-2, 6.15 ERA, 1.785 WHIP)
Two of these pitching matchups are encore presentations of the series played at Wrigley from April 18-20. In that series the Cubs lost the Simon – Samardzija matchup and actually won the Jackson – Cingrani matchup (I know, I’m shocked too!), primarily thanks to the Reds’ bullpen giving up five runs (well, that explains it then). Once again, the Cubs dodge a bullet by not having to face the red-hot Johnny Cueto (1.15 ERA, 0.766 WHIP). They also will not face Mike Leake (3.82 ERA, 1.019 WHIP) in this series.
The Reds’ offense features five players whose OPS is currently at or above .750:
- Devin Mesoraco, C, 1.297
- Joey Votto, 1B, .909
- Ryan Ludwick, LF, .777
- Todd Frazier, 3B, .772
- Jay Bruce, RF, .750
Mesoraco has made the most of the 13 games he’s played in so far, posting a .468 average with nine extra-base hits in 53 plate appearances. He won't be playing in this series, though, as he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a hamstring injury. Backup Brayan Pena will be playing in his place. On the other side of the equation, the Reds have a couple of players who have been underperforming so far, including speedster Billy Hamilton, who has posted a subpar .253 OBP to date to go along with a .532 OPS. Oh, and just when you thought our offense may be (or is) bad, you should be reminded of Zack Cozart, who currently is hitting .148 with a .423 OPS. His backup, Ramon Santiago, currently has a .393 OPS, so yes, things can be worse.
Unfortunately, the offense for the Cubs has slid downhill since the Brewers’ series; Anthony Rizzo still leads the team in OPS, but it’s now down to .816, and Emilio Bonifacio continues to slide toward reality with an OPS now at .788. The next highest after that is Castro, currently at .768 thanks to his two homers on Sunday. The rest… well, you probably don’t want to know.
No, really, you don’t.
Okay, fine, you asked for it: Nate Schierholtz is at .485, Ryan Sweeney is at .477, and Darwin Barney is at .439. To quote Sheldon Cooper: "I informed you thusly."
For as good as Shark has been so far, the Cubs have shown their appreciation by giving him absolutely no run support (fourth-worst of all NL starters with at least three starts), and seeing how Simon has performed even better than Shark so far, I don’t see Shark notching win number one here. The Cubs are actually 3-3 this year against left-handed starters, so is it possible that Jackson could eke one out here? Okay, stop laughing. I only kinda meant it. Or maybe not. But it sounded plausible in my head. Anyway…
The big wild card is the final game. Currently Villanueva is still listed as the starter, although Arrieta is scheduled to rejoin the team today. He put together great numbers in his four starts down at AA Tennessee (1.26 ERA, 0.907 WHIP). His start at High-A Daytona wasn’t as good, giving up five runs (three earned) in 5⅔ innings. He did strike out seven in that start, though. So while Villanueva is written in for Wednesday, I'm hoping it's in very light pencil.
RUSS’ PREDICTION: 1-2. Probably the last game of the three. I’ll put my hopes on Arrieta in this one. Also, I figured that some BCB interaction was in order on this feature, so I've included a poll as well.
NEXT STOP: After the Reds series, the Cubs will return to Wrigley for a five-game homestand beginning with a three-game set against the St. Louis Cardinals. Out of the frying pan, and into the fire!