Cincinnati's Jay Bruce concluded April on a hitting tear, and there's reason to believe he can carry that momentum into May.
Bruce looks to continue his surge and help the Reds move above .500 for the first time in more than three weeks in Tuesday night's series opener against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park.
Bruce was named the NL Player of the Week on Monday after batting .476 with four homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.685 OPS. His solo homer in the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday against Houston lifted Cincinnati (11-11) to a 6-5 victory.
It also extended Bruce's homer streak to four games, one short of matching a club record shared by Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ted Kluszewski.
"This is what you play for,'' said Bruce, who leads the Reds with seven homers.
This isn't the first time Bruce has enjoyed this kind of surge. Last season, he led the majors with 12 homers, 82 total bases and 33 RBIs in May.
He has also given Chicago pitchers trouble, batting .319 with a .417 on-base percentage in 20 games against the Cubs since the start of last season. He was 3 for 9 as Cincinnati took two of three at Wrigley Field from April 20-22, and is 1 for 2 with a double, strikeout and walk against probable Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija (2-1, 4.13 ERA).
Joey Votto also homered Sunday and drove in four runs for the Reds, who have won seven of 10 after opening 4-8. They're now in position to move above .500 for the first time since April 8, when they were 2-1.
"The way we started was really ugly,'' Votto said. "It was a shock to everybody. It was humbling, but I think it was a good thing, too. I'm a firm believer in that, while you don't want to start bad, it doesn't hurt. It makes you concentrate on fundamentals.''
The Cubs (8-15) started the season in worse shape than the Reds, dropping 11 of their first 13. They're 5-4 since, but arrive in Cincinnati after Monday's 6-4 loss at Philadelphia.
First baseman Bryan LaHair is batting .435 with three homers, four doubles and five RBIs during a six-game hitting streak. He hit a game-tying, two-run shot Monday and has accounted for five of Chicago's major league-low nine homers.
Starlin Castro is tied with LaHair for the club lead with 14 RBIs, but is hitting .091 - his lone hit being a homer - in 11 career at-bats against Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo (1-0, 2.70).
Arroyo gave up two runs and nine hits in five innings Wednesday, failing to get a decision in a 4-2 victory over San Francisco. The Reds have won three of his four starts
The right-hander was 0-1 with a 3.66 ERA in three starts against the Cubs last year after going 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA against them over the previous three seasons.
Samardzija takes the ball looking to put an end to his struggles away from Wrigley.
The right-hander has a 0.59 ERA and a 0.65 WHIP in two home starts, but in two road outings he has a 10.38 ERA and a 2.77 WHIP. Pitching at home last Tuesday, Samardzija allowed four hits while striking out a career-best nine in 6 2-3 scoreless innings of a 3-2, 10-inning win over St. Louis.
Samardzija's has compiled a 5.65 ERA in 14 career relief appearances against the Reds.
Votto is 1 for 9 lifetime against Samardzija, while Brandon Phillips is 1 for 7.
Cincinnati went 7-2 against the Cubs last season at Great American Ball Park.
- Jay Bruce