With just 14 games to play, the chances of the Cincinnati Reds winning the NL wild card are becoming more remote.
The Reds’ chances to reach the postseason took a major hit Saturday after they managed just two hits off rookie Rich Hill in a 4-0 loss to the Cubs (60-89). Cincinnati (73-75) fell 4 1/2 games behind San Diego after the Padres’ 11-2 rout of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“You play all season to come down to this last month and be in the race and we are,” Reds catcher David Ross said. “We’re playing ourselves out of it right now but we’re still in it. This team, if it gets hot, we could be all right.”
To keep their hopes alive, the Reds will have to beat Zambrano (14-6, 3.50 ERA), who has been the Cubs ace in an otherwise dismal season and returns after missing two starts with a back injury.
He left after the shortest outing of his career—1 1-3 innings—in which he gave up five runs, four hits and four walks of a 5-4 defeat to the Pirates on Sept. 4.
“I couldn’t throw today,” he said. “I couldn’t bend … and as a pitcher, you have to bend as much as possible to get the strike zone and to get your command. If you throw straight, you let your pitches go high and that’s what happened.”
The right-hander is trying to reach 15 wins for the first time since he went a career-best 16-8 in 2004. He’s 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts this season against the Reds at Wrigley Field.
Zambrano will be opposed by Eric Milton (8-7, 4.84), who also is coming off an injury-shortened start. He left Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to San Diego with left elbow stiffness after allowing one run and four hits in five innings.
“I wasn’t going to go out there again, with as much as we have on the line, if I wasn’t feeling good,” Milton said. “It’s been sore for a while, but in the fifth inning, I felt it (throwing) a slider. It’s painful.”
Milton, who’s won both his starts at Wrigley Field this season, has failed to record a decision in his last starts while posting a 4.22 ERA. Cincinnati is 4-2 in that span.
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, the reigning NL batting champion who’s missed much of the season with a broken wrist, has taken an indefinite leave from the team due to his daughter’s illness. At a news conference Sunday morning, Lee explained his daughter has lost vision in one eye and will need to undergo further testing to find the cause.
“My daughter’s lost some vision in one eye and we’ll find out more at a later time; we have to go through some more tests,” Lee said in a statement. “Right now we just ask for everyone’s prayers. We need a miracle, we need your prayers. We need everyone to believe she’s going to be OK.”