The Cubs’ 6-0 victory in the opener Tuesday, coupled with Houston’s 10-3 home loss to San Francisco gave them first place, one game ahead of the Astros with five to play.
Chicago is alone atop the Central for the first time since Sept. 8. The Cubs, who won for the 16th time in 22 games overall, haven’t been alone in first this late in a season since 1989, the last time they won a division title.
“We’re sensing that we’ve gotten into the position we wanted to be in all year long,” said Kerry Wood, who pitched seven innings of one-hit ball and struck out 12 Tuesday. “We’re in it, and now we’ve got to step up and play good baseball.”
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, acquired from Pittsburgh in late July, hit his 27th homer for the Cubs. He has five homers and nine RBIs in his last six games.
While the Cubs are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since they went as a wild card in 1998, the Reds are playing out their third straight losing season.
Tuesday’s loss was Cincinnati’s 90th of the season, marking only the 14th time that baseball’s first pro franchise has reached the mark.
The Reds came in having won two of three against Philadelphia.
STANDINGS: Cubs - 1st place, NL Central. Reds - 5th place, 18 GB, NL Central.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTER: Shawn Estes (7-11, 6.09 ERA). Estes, who hasn’t won since July 27 at Houston, is 0-3 in his last six starts. However, the left-hander hasn’t started since failing to get a decision in the Cubs’ 7-6 win over St. Louis on Sept. 4. Estes was used as a middle reliever during Friday’s doubleheader in Pittsburgh—his first major league relief appearance. He is 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts against the Reds this season, and 4-2 with a 3.86 ERA in nine career starts against them.
REDS PROBABLE STARTER: Josh Hall (0-1, 6.14 ERA). Hall was tagged with a 7-3 loss at Philadelphia on Friday. The rookie right-hander gave up five runs and five hits while walking four over five innings. He faced the Cubs on Sept. 14, pitching seven innings of seven-hit ball in the Reds’ 1-0 road victory.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Cubs - Mark Grudzielanek, .313 avg.; Sammy Sosa, 36 HRs and 93 runs; Ramirez, 102 RBIs; Kenny Lofton, 30 SBs. Reds - Sean Casey, .291 avg. and 75 RBIs; Adam Dunn, 27 HRs and 70 runs; Ryan Freel, 9 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Cubs, 9-6.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - The Cubs have the fourth-lowest ERA in the NL at 3.85. … LF Moises Alou is 2-for-23 (.087) over his last six games with just one RBI. … RF Sosa was 0-for-3 Tuesday. He came in batting .356 (16-for-45) against the Reds this season with five homers, 12 RBIs and 11 walks. Reds - The Reds have been struck out a major league-high 1,297 times this season. … The Reds are tied with Detroit for the most errors in the big leagues (135). … 1B Casey is batting .340 (18-for-53) against the Cubs this season with a homer, three doubles and eight RBIs.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cubs - 43-36 on the road; Reds - 33-43 at home.
INJURIES: Cubs - OF Corey Patterson (knee), 60-day DL; RHP Scott Chiasson (elbow), 60-day DL; LHP Will Ohman (elbow), 60-day DL. Reds - SS Barry Larkin (finger), 15-day DL; OF Dunn (thumb), 15-day DL; RHP Jose Acevedo (ankle), 15-day DL; RHP Ryan Dempster (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Jimmy Haynes (back), 60-day DL; RHP Luke Prokopec (shoulder), 60-day DL; LHP Mark Watson (kidney), 60-day DL; 3B Brandon Larson (shoulder), 60-day DL; OF Ken Griffey Jr. (ankle), 60-day DL; OF Austin Kearns (shoulder), 60-day DL; OF Reggie Taylor (shoulder), 60-day DL.