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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Reds Series Preview

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The Cubs come back to Wrigley Field for the final homestand of the 2014 season, starting out with three games against the Cincinnati Reds.

So am I playing first base next inning, or third base?
So am I playing first base next inning, or third base?
John Konstantaras

Thirteen games left. The next 10 of which are at home. It still doesn't seem that long ago that the season just started.

With only 13 games remaining, it seems almost certain that the Cubs will end up with a pick in the protected group again in the 2015 draft.  After the 1-5 road trip the Cubs' record now stands at 65-84, placing them fifth in the reverse standings and 6½ games back from the New York Mets (72-78) who have the first unprotected pick for 2015. If you're wondering about downward movement, the Cubs are two games ahead of (or behind, depending on your point of view) the Minnesota Twins (63-86) for fourth place and four ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks (61-88) for third place. With the opponents that the Cubs have left, there's still a lot of potential to move downward. Or upward. Closer to the bottom, basically.

First up in the final homestand is the Cincinnati Reds. They come into this series with a record of 71-79 but of those 71 wins, 11 of them have come against the Cubs.  The last time the two teams met was in a three-game series from August 26-28 in which the Reds won two of three. In fact, the Cubs have not won a series against the Reds this season; you have to go back one year ago to September 9-11, 2013 to find the last time they won a three-game series against Cincinnati. And for a three-game series win at Wrigley Field, you have to go back a couple more years to September 5-7, 2011. That's only a little bit depressing. Okay, maybe more than that.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Monday: Alfredo Simon (14-10, 3.48 ERA, 1.206 WHIP) vs. Travis Wood (8-12, 5.03 ERA, 1.537 WHIP)
Tuesday: Johnny Cueto (18-8, 2.15 ERA, 0.959 WHIP) vs. Jake Arrieta (8-5, 2.82 ERA, 1.066 WHIP)
Wednesday: Daniel Corcino (0-0, 5.19 ERA, 0.923 WHIP) vs. Kyle Hendricks (6-2, 2.38 ERA, 1.088 WHIP)

To make matters worse, this series will be the fifth in which the Cubs have faced Simon this year and they have not won any of the previous four games.  More to the point, in those four games they have scored a total of five runs. They actually have managed a win against Cueto, though, in the two games in which they faced him; that win came back on August 26 in which the good Travis Wood appeared, allowing two hits over six scoreless innings. Corcino will be making his second start of his career due to injuries to Mat Latos (bone bruise in right elbow) and Dylan Axelrod (strained right oblique). Is it just me, or have there been a lot of oblique injuries this year?

THE OFFENSE:

One of the hopes for a Cub win in the series lies in this short over-.750 list for the Reds:

  • Devin Mesoraco, C, .906
  • Todd Frazier, 1B/3B, .799

The Reds' bats have pretty much fallen asleep since June, and since the All-Star break Cincinnati has the worst batting average (.225) and OPS (.616) in the National League. Things just haven't been the same for them since Joey Votto (.799) went down in July with a quadriceps injury, with Kristopher Negron (.748) and Brayan Pena (.654) filling in at first and third base while Frazier has flipped between the two for most of the second half of the season. Mesoraco remains as dangerous as ever, though, hitting .286 with a 1.038 OPS in 12 games in September.

The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):

  • Jorge Soler, 1.101 (.626)
  • Anthony Rizzo, .889 (no games in last two weeks)
  • Luis Valbuena, .771 (.746)
  • Chris Coghlan, .762 (.561)

The hopes for the Cubs will get a bit brighter again with Soler back in the lineup after missing the Pittsburgh series due to the birth of his child. If they can get Rizzo back for a game or two that would also help the possibilities of a win, although it's still unknown at this point as to when exactly he will return to the lineup.

GAME PROJECTIONS:

Game 1: I guess if there's a silver lining to this game, it's that Simon has as many outings in which he has allowed five runs or more as he has in which he allowed two runs or less since August. He has had three games with game scores above 60 and three with scores below 35 in that span, but his worst in any start against the Cubs this season has been 57. Wood got bombed in his last start against Pittsburgh, posting his worst game score of the season (9), and he has had mixed results in his two starts against the Reds. "Mixed results" seems to sum up 2014 Travis Wood in a nutshell.

Game 2: I'm trying to find a silver lining here as well, and all I can come up with is this: Cueto has pitched more innings this season (222) than in any previous season in his career; his next-highest year was 2012 when he threw 217 innings. Of course, his last start was a three-hitter over eight innings against St. Louis, and that was only his fourth-best game score of 2014 at 82. This will be Arrieta's third start against the Reds this season; he also has had mixed results against them, pitching seven innings of three-hit, two-run ball on June 24 but getting lit up for six runs in only four innings on August 28. That was his only bad start in his last six, however, with only six runs allowed in total in the five starts around it.

Game 3: Corcino has not seen much action at the big-league level this year. He spent almost all of 2014 at Double-A Pensacola where he was 10-11 with a 4.13 ERA and 1.343 WHIP in 25 starts. His one start for Cincinnati was against the Brewers and it was a good one, allowing two hits and two runs over six innings in a 3-2 Reds loss. Hendricks has not faced Cincinnati since his major-league debut against them on July 10 when he allowed four runs over six innings. That was the only time he had allowed four runs in a game until his last start at Toronto.

RUSS' PREDICTION: Ugh. I'll go 1-2 on the hopes of Hendricks, Soler, and Rizzo. The rest just looks like a bad dream.

NEXT STOP: The Cubs play their final non-divisional opponent of 2014 in a four-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Prepare for more bad things.