The Cubs beat the Reds 8-0 Wednesday to maintain their one-game lead over Houston in the NL Central.
“You want to play in October, you’ve got to win,” said Sosa, who slammed his 536th career homer, tying Mickey Mantle for 10th place on the all-time list. “We don’t have that much room.”
So far, Chicago has been able to take advantage of lesser opponentsl. The Reds have won nine of their last 12 overall, all against teams with losing records—Cincinnati, the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.
After this game, the Cubs finish with three at home against the Pirates.
The Cubs haven’t been alone in first place this late in the season since 1989, the last time they won a division title. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 1998, when they won the NL wild card.
The Cubs have outscored the Reds 14-0 in the two games, allowing only six hits.
“Down the stretch here, you’re going to win with pitching,” Chicago manager Dusty Baker said. “The last two days have been awesome. You rarely see back-to-back shutouts.”
They’ve become common in Cincinnati, as the Reds have been shut out eight times since Aug. 8, including consecutive shutouts last month against San Diego and Arizona.
“He’s not the only pitcher to come in here in the last four weeks and shut us down,” said Russell Branyan, who had a single. “We’re struggling.”
It may not be any easier in the finale when they the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano. In four games against the right-hander, the Reds have managed seven runs— three earned—in 28 2-3 innings.
STANDINGS: Cubs - 1st place, NL Central. Reds - 5th place, 19 GB, NL Central.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTER: Zambrano (13-10, 2.97 ERA). Before facing the Pirates in his last start, Zambrano was 7-2 with a 1.61 ERA in his previous 11 outings. That stretch of effectiveness was snapped by the Pirates, who had nine runs— six earned—and eight hits in 4 2-3 innings on Saturday. Zambrano did not get a decision, as Chicago rallied for a 10-9 win. He is 3-2 with a 0.74 ERA in 10 games—including six starts—against the Reds.
REDS PROBABLE STARTER: Todd Van Poppel (1-1, 4.25 ERA). In his last start, Van Poppel and two relievers combined on a four-hitter, leading Cincinnati to a 2-0 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday. A first-round pick by Oakland in 1990, Van Poppel allowed four hits in 6 1-3 innings, his longest outing in five years. He has made three career relief appearances against the Cubs, allowing three unearned runs and two hits in two innings.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Cubs - Kenny Lofton, .321 avg. and 30 SBs; Sosa, 36 HRs and 95 runs; Aramis Ramirez, 105 RBIs. Reds - Sean Casey, .289 avg. and 75 RBIs; Adam Dunn, 27 HRs and 70 runs; Ryan Freel, 9 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Cubs, 10-6.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - The Cubs are a season-high 14 games over .500 and are 17-6 in September. … CF Lofton is 9-for-20 in the last five games. … RHP Zambrano is 8-4 with a 2.92 ERA in 16 road starts. Reds - 1B Casey is 1-for-10 in his career against RHP Zambrano. … RHP Van Poppel pitched for the Cubs in 2000 and 2001, posting a 3.07 ERA in 108 games. … The Reds have 137 errors, the most in the majors.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cubs - 44-36 on the road; Reds - 33-44 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.