Cincinnati (74-84) at Chicago (88-70)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Chicago, IL
Temp: 73° F
  • Game info: 2:20 pm EDT Thu Sep 30, 2004
  • TV: FSCH
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Chicago Cubs are enduring a slump at the worst possible time.

With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Cubs will try to improve their playoff hopes when they conclude their four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs have lost four of their last five games to drop out of the lead in the NL wild-card race. With a 4-3 loss to the Reds in 12 innings on Wednesday, Chicago fell into a second place tie with San Francisco. They trail Houston by a half-game, which beat St. Louis on Wednesday.

“It hurts big-time,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s tough to take, but it is what it is.”

After dropping two of three to the New York Mets last weekend, the Cubs have lost two of their first three games to Cincinnati.

Cincinnati outfielder Austin Kearns had a two-out RBI double in the ninth inning Wednesday off Cubs closer LaTroy Hawkins and then hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the 12th off Jon Leicester.

“The last couple of times out it’s like we and Hawk, we’ve got—boy it seems like—the two-out, two-strike blues,” Baker said of Hawkins, who has blown three of his last five save opportunities.0

The Cubs also left 11 runners on base Wednesday.

“It’s frustrating because everyone thinks a team like the Reds shouldn’t beat you, especially this time of year,” Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said. “But for whatever reason, they have beaten us twice now back-to-back. That’s a tough bite to swallow.”

With the wild-card race destined to come down to the season’s final weekend, the Cubs realize they cannot afford any more mistakes. After finishing their set with the Reds, they’ll close the year with a three-game series against the NL East champion Atlanta Braves.

“It’s frustrating, but you can’t dwell on it. You have to come back tomorrow,” said Hawkins, who was booed as he walked off the field.

The Cubs will now try to provide Mark Prior with more support than they gave him in his most recent start. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed just four hits over 7 2-3 scoreless innings Saturday, but Chicago lost to the New York Mets 4-3 in 11 innings.

“I felt good out there, threw the ball well,” Prior said.

Kearns finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs Wednesday for the Reds, who have won six of their last eight.

“It was Kearns’ day. He tied up the game, he won the game, he saved the game,” Baker said.

Adam Dunn added his 45th homer of the season for Cincinnati.

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Starting Pitchers

A. Harang Phi vs. M. Prior Cin
10-9 Record 6-4
4.86 ERA 4.02
125 K 139
53 BB 48
1.43 WHIP 1.35