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Reds-Cubs Preview

AP - Sports

The Cincinnati Reds will face the slumping Chicago Cubs eight times over the next 11 games, which could help them create some breathing room in the tightened NL Central.

Cincinnati looks to avoid a season-high fifth straight loss Thursday night when it plays the first of four in Chicago against a Cubs squad that has dropped eight in a row.

The Reds head into Wrigley Field after being swept in a three-game series at Milwaukee this week.

They fell 3-2 Wednesday, wasting seven strong innings from starter Mat Latos when Jonathan Broxton gave up two runs in the eighth.

Cincinnati (66-45) has batted .167 and totaled eight runs during its four-game skid after averaging 5.6 runs and hitting .284 while winning 15 of its previous 16. The slump has diminished the Reds' division lead to 2 1/2 games over second-place Pittsburgh.

"We'll get it together and make another nice run," manager Dusty Baker told the Reds' official website. "That's why you run the race, and that's why you play the whole season."

Facing the Cubs could help Cincinnati get it together. Chicago (43-66) has lost eight straight, getting shut out three times.

Jay Bruce, who is 3 for his last 18 with eight strikeouts, may be particularly pleased to see the Cubs. He's hitting .343 in his last 20 games in this series, and is 5 for 15 in four games this year.

He'll try to help the Reds avoid their first five-game losing streak since a six-game slide May 18-23, 2011.

The Cubs, who are batting .169 during their skid, managed five hits and had one error in a 2-0 loss to San Diego on Wednesday as the Padres completed a three-game sweep.

"You've got to be ready to show up and play the game, regardless of your record, regardless of how you feel,'' losing pitcher Jeff Samardzija said.

Alfonso Soriano returned to the lineup after missing the previous game with a sore right hand. He went 0 for 2 with a walk and was hit by a pitch.

Soriano is 1 for 13 against Thursday's probable Cincinnati starter Mike Leake (4-7, 4.51 ERA).

The right-hander is 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA in eight starts against the Cubs, but struggled against them earlier this season, allowing five runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 6-1 loss April 21.

Leake gave up four runs in six innings against the Pirates on Saturday, not getting a decision in a 5-4 victory - the last game the Reds won.

The Cubs will counter with Chris Volstad (0-8, 7.22), who has lost his last five starts and is 0-13 in his last 21, going back to a victory over Houston on July 10, 2011 while pitching for the Marlins.

Volstad, whom the Cubs recalled from Triple-A Iowa last week, gave up two runs in seven innings of a 3-1 loss to Los Angeles on Saturday. The runs allowed were his fewest in a major league start this season.

"The streak is there for no reason of his tonight," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said. "He gave up two runs in seven innings to that lineup, you've far and above done your job to win a baseball game."

The right-hander allowed six runs in five innings of a 9-4 defeat to the Reds on April 20, falling to 1-3 with a 5.32 ERA in his career against them.

Cincinnati owns a 3-2 edge in the season series with the Cubs.

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