With a win in the opener at Wrigley Field, the Cincinnati Reds’ magic number to clinch the NL Central is down to four.
The Chicago Cubs have a far less glamorous magic number, one that will keep them from finishing with 100 losses.
The Reds look to move closer to their second division title in three years and continue their dominance over the lowly Cubs on Wednesday night.
Cincinnati (89-59) finished with four hits Tuesday, but took advantage of Justin Germano’s command problems in 3-1 win. Germano walked the first three batters in the sixth inning - Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce - and was promptly pulled. Ryan Hanigan then greeted reliever Manny Corpas with a bases-clearing double to help the Reds beat the Cubs for the seventh time in eight meetings since Aug. 10.
“We had just enough offense to win,” Dusty Baker said after his 3,000th game as manager. “Just a big victory for us, back to 30 over and one step closer.”
The Reds, who haven’t been 31 over .500 since Sept. 30, 1999, when they were 95-64, also maintained their 11-game lead over St. Louis. They can win the division with a sweep over the Cubs, coupled with a pair of losses by the Cardinals.
While the Reds will be turning their attention to the World Series in October, Chicago has something to play for in the season’s final two weeks.
The Cubs (58-90) need to win five of their final 14 games to avoid their first 100-loss season since the 1966 team matched a franchise record with 103 defeats.
“These guys are trying to stay away from 100 losses, and that’s their goal,” Dale Sveum told the team’s official website. “The Cincinnati Reds, mathematically, they have (the division) locked up. … These guys are just trying to stay away from 100 losses, and there’s a lot of pride in that.”
Darwin Barney has stepped up his play, recording his third straight multihit game Tuesday to extended his hitting streak to a career-best 13. The second baseman, who has stretched his errorless streak to an NL-record 133 straight games, is batting .467 with two doubles in 15 career at-bats against scheduled starter Mike Leake (8-9, 4.69 ERA).
Leake gave up three runs and nine hits in seven innings in last Tuesday’s 5-3 win over Pittsburgh. The right-hander served up two more homers, bringing his total in his last five starts to eight.
Leake has been hit-or-miss in his last five games, recording a 3.20 ERA in his three victories, but a 17.55 ERA in his two losses.
In two starts against the Cubs this season - both at Wrigley - Leake is 0-1 with a 6.17 ERA.
Chicago counters with Chris Rusin (1-2, 5.06), who notched his first major league victory Friday against Pittsburgh, allowing two runs and four hits in five-plus innings in a 7-4 final.
“I located the ball, kept the ball down and got ahead of a lot of hitters,” said the 25-year-old left-hander, who struck out six and walked none.
Rusin was shelled for five runs in one inning of work in a loss to Washington on Sept. 4, but has a 2.40 ERA in his other three starts. He has yet to last longer than five innings, though.
He’ll be facing a Cincinnati team averaging 3.0 runs while batting .211 in its last eight games. Leadoff hitter Brandon Phillips is batting .147 in the last eight, while Bruce is 3 for 30 with 10 strikeouts in the last seven.