Well, that was a nice way to end a homestand. And an unexpected one.
After the sweep of the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, the Cubs' record stands at 58-72 and they now have a lead of 3½ games over the Arizona Diamondbacks (55-76) in the National League reverse standings race. They are tied for sixth overall with the Minnesota Twins and are one-half game behind the Philadelphia Phillies (59-72).
Of the Cubs' remaining 32 games, 25 are against divisional opponents and they will be facing off against each of the four NL Central teams in their next four series. The first opponent is the Cincinnati Reds (63-68) who have been heading in the wrong direction since the All-Star break, with a 12-24 record in the second half of the season and 9-14 in August. The Cubs are 4-9 against the Reds this year which, sadly to say, is better than they have done against the Reds since 2011, and they are 2-5 this year at Great American Ball Park.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Tuesday: Travis Wood (7-11, 4.91 ERA, 1.523 WHIP) vs. Johnny Cueto (15-7, 2.20 ERA, 1.165 WHIP)
Wednesday: Jacob Turner (0-0, 2.08 ERA, 0.692 WHIP) vs. Mat Latos (4-3, 2.99 ERA, 1.079 WHIP)
Thursday: Jake Arrieta (7-4, 2.53 ERA, 1.005 WHIP) vs. Mike Leake (10-11, 3.51 ERA, 1.238 WHIP)
With the Cubs' day off on Monday, they have shuffled the rotation a bit to have Wood face off against Cueto and still be pitching on normal rest. Turner will be making his first start as a Cub on Wednesday night, but whether or not he'll actually be facing Latos is still unknown. The Reds web site and MLB.com still have the Reds' Wednesday and Thursday starters listed as "to be determined" with the question likely being who will make the start on Wednesday. In the Reds' last turn through the rotation, David Holmberg (0-1, 18.56 ERA, 3.563 WHIP) pitched in the spot after Cueto, but he was sent back to Triple-A Louisville over the weekend after getting bombarded against the Atlanta Braves. Another Louisville option is Dylan Axelrod (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.333 WHIP) who pitched in the rotation cycle before that in a doubleheader at Colorado. Stay tuned for further updates.
The Reds offense features two starters whose OPS is at or above .750:
- Devin Mesoraco, C, .880
- Todd Frazier, 1B/3B, .803
A lot of the Reds' troubles in the past two weeks can be traced back to their offense, or more to the point, their lack of it. In the past 12 games the Reds have hit .222 with a .617 OPS as a team and they have a woeful .188 average and .497 OPS in their last five games, worst of any team in the National League in the last seven days. Utility infielder Kristopher Negron has been one of the lone bright spots for the Reds, hitting .284 with an .827 OPS since being called up on July 12 and sporting a .370 / 1.026 line in his last 10 games.
The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):
- Anthony Rizzo, .886 (.952)
- Chris Coghlan, .780 (.507)
- Justin Ruggiano, .766 (.927)
- Starlin Castro, .762 (.832)
For as bad as the Reds' offense has been in the past two weeks, the Cubs haven't been much better in that department, hitting .231 with a .674 OPS in their last 12 games. Javier Baez found out that membership into the over-.750 club isn't permanent as he joins Luis Valbuena just on the other side of the door. Valbuena currently stands at .744 with Baez at .732.
With the Reds' rotation in flux for the last two games of the series, the only game that can be reasonably projected is the first one, and any time you're facing off against Cueto it's not a good thing. He currently is tied for the Major League lead in wins and leads the Major Leagues in hits allowed per nine innings at 6.03. He has allowed two runs or less in six of his last seven starts, with his last start against St. Louis being the outlier. Wood has only had one start in his last 12 in which he has allowed two runs or less, so the odds are certainly not in the Cubs' favor here.
It's very likely that Latos will also be starting this series as his normal turn in the rotation would come on Thursday. In his last six starts, he has allowed one run in three of them and three runs in the other three. Whether or not the Cubs face Leake or a callup from Louisville is the question that will probably be resolved in the next day.
RUSS' PREDICTION: You know, with the news that Jorge Soler will be joining the team on Wednesday I think it's time for the power of intangibles to come into play again. It's not a bold and daring call by any means, but I'm going with 2-1.
NEXT STOP: The road trip comes to a close as the Cubs head down to St. Louis for four games against the Cardinals, including a doubleheader on Saturday. Looks like it might be time for a callup for Dan Straily or Felix Doubront.