A season after their surprising NL Central title, the Cincinnati Reds are laboring to stay near the top of the division. Judging by their recent results in the series, a visit from the struggling Chicago Cubs might be coming at the perfect time.
The Reds will try to add to that dominance of the Cubs, losers of six in a row, and avoid a third straight defeat Monday night.
Cincinnati finished 91-71 in 2010 to win its first division title in 15 years but is 5 1/2 games back of St. Louis after dropping 13 of 18. The Reds (30-30) seemed to get back on track by starting 3-1 on this nine-game homestand, but were outscored 20-14 in consecutive defeats to Los Angeles this weekend.
They gave up seven runs over the first three innings Sunday en route to a 9-6 defeat.
“That’s just baseball,” outfielder Chris Heisey(notes) said. “No matter how good you are, you’re going to have a stretch where things don’t go your way, like the Red Sox at the beginning of the season. We’re .500, but I think we’re better. I know we’re better.”
Cincinnati has been the far better team in recent matchups with Chicago (23-34), winning 14 of 17 and four of five this season. The Reds swept a two-game set at Great American Ball Park from May 16-17 and have won six of seven meetings there.
Mike Leake(notes) (4-2, 5.03 ERA) will try to keep that run going by with another strong outing since being recalled from the minors May 27. The right-hander is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his last two starts but did not get a decision in Wednesday’s 4-3 win over Milwaukee.
Leake allowed three runs over six innings in that game and has been equally solid in three career starts against the Cubs, going 2-0 with a 3.20 ERA. The Reds could use another one of those performances from the right-hander with the bullpen having worked 8 1-3 innings in the past two games.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a deep game like we have the last couple of days (prior to Sunday),” manager Dusty Baker told the team’s website. “That’s what helps, big time.”
Chicago, meanwhile, could use a solid outing from Matt Garza(notes) (2-4, 3.72) in his return from a bone bruise in his right elbow. The Cubs are trying to avoid matching last season’s longest skid - July 27-Aug. 3 - but enter this game in a little bit of turmoil after serving up game-ending home runs in each of their past two defeats.
“We’re playing like a Triple-A team. This is embarrassing,” he said. “We stink. That’s all I have to say.”
Garza was 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in his two most recent starts, allowing three unearned runs over six innings before leaving without a decision in a 7-5 loss in Cincinnati on May 17.
In his only other matchup with the Reds on May 6, the right-hander was reached for five runs over six innings in a 5-4 loss.