The Cincinnati Reds are under .500 and feeling the pressure of falling further back in the NL Central race.
Facing the Chicago Cubs seems like an ideal way to gain ground, but that may not be the case this time.
Reigning NL Central champion Cincinnati (54-57) is fourth in the division, 7 1/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee.
The Reds are coming off a lackluster series against the majors’ worst team, dropping two of three at Houston capped by a 5-4 defeat Wednesday.
Facing Chicago (47-65) presents another good opportunity for the Reds to begin climbing. Cincinnati has won 16 of the last 20 meetings, including eight of 10 at Wrigley Field.
“It starts with one, and then it builds from there,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s what we’re trying to do now. Every game is important. The closer you get, the closer (the division leaders) feel you’re getting. You want them to see and feel you coming.”
The Cubs, though, are on a season-high five-game winning streak, and they damaged another Central team’s hopes by completing a four-game sweep at Pittsburgh with Thursday’s 7-6 victory.
Votto will try to help end the Cubs’ run. He owns a .432 average with four homers and 10 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak, but he’s just 3 for 21 with one homer and nine strikeouts in his last seven games at Wrigley.
The right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA in four starts against Chicago, allowing three runs in six innings of a 14-3 victory in his only visit to Wrigley on July 4, 2010.
He was staked to a 5-0 first-inning lead in Saturday’s 7-2 win over San Francisco, yielding two runs - one earned - with seven strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings. That followed a pair of losing starts, in which Leake allowed three runs in 12 1-3 but was backed by one total run.
“As a pitcher you never complain about runs,” said Leake, who gets an NL-high 6.75 runs of support per nine innings.
The Cubs are batting .286 during their longest winning streak since a six-game run in September, getting 11 homers from eight different players.
“We’ve got some guys that can and should hit the ball out of the ballpark from time to time,” manager Mike Quade said. “We’re not built for speed. We need extra-base hits to score runs and win games.”
He’s received no run support while losing the last two meetings at Wrigley despite holding the Reds to seven hits over 13 1-3 innings. The right-hander has split two starts against Cincinnati this year, allowing three runs and eight hits in 13 innings - with Votto going 1 for 6 with three strikeouts versus Dempster.
Dempster earned a 6-3 win at St. Louis on Sunday, but was pulled after allowing all of the Cardinals’ runs in the sixth inning.