While the Cincinnati Reds sit comfortably atop the NL wild-card standings, they have their sights set on winning the Central.
Facing the division's last-place team isn't likely to hurt their cause.
The surging Reds try to continue their recent domination of the Chicago Cubs in Monday night's series opener at Great American Ball Park.
Cincinnati (82-62) enters this three-game set seeking a fifth consecutive victory after sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend. Jay Bruce hit two solo homers and Ryan Hanigan drove in Zack Cozart with a walkoff double in Sunday's 3-2 victory, moving the Reds into a virtual second-place tie in the division.
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are 1 1/2 games behind first-place St. Louis.
"Man, guys are excited in there and they should be," said manager Dusty Baker, whose team is eight games ahead of third-place Washington in the wild-card race. "We've just got to keep going. We're in second place now, hopefully headed toward first."
Cincinnati would appear to have a good chance to do just that against the Cubs (60-82). The Reds have averaged 5.2 runs and hit 27 homers in taking 22 of 26 from Chicago, which is an NL-worst 12-27 since July 29.
"You never want to be a spoiler, and not that there's really any spoiling going on," Cubs manager Dale Sveum told MLB's official website. "You're getting in that playoff-type atmosphere when you're trying to win a division. ... It's good for everybody to see that and play in those atmospheres. It's different."
Chicago is hoping to avoid a third straight loss after falling 3-1 to Milwaukee on Sunday. Rookie Junior Lake went 2 for 3 with his sixth homer, but the rest of the team was 1 for 27.
The Cubs could be in for another long day at the plate against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo (13-10, 3.62 ERA). The right-hander, who has won four consecutive starts in the series, is 9-3 with a 2.75 ERA in his last 15 outings versus Chicago.
Arroyo has also shined at home, going 9-3 with a 3.16 ERA. He recorded his 15th quality start in 17 outings there Wednesday, allowing three runs over seven innings in a 5-4, 16-inning loss to St. Louis.
Arroyo will be opposed by Travis Wood (8-11, 3.17), who is 2-5 with a 3.99 ERA in nine starts since representing Chicago in the All-Star game. The left-hander surrendered four runs and nine hits in seven innings last Monday in a 4-3 loss to Miami.
Wood, who spent the first two seasons of his career with Cincinnati, is still trying to beat his former team. He allowed two runs over a season-high eight innings in a hard-luck 2-0 loss Aug. 12, dropping to 0-4 with a 4.15 ERA in six starts against the Reds.
Cozart is 1 for 16 in their matchups, and Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto are both 1 for 10. Bruce and Todd Frazier, though, are a combined 10 for 28 with four homers.
Cozart is batting .373 during a career-best 13-game hitting streak.
The Cubs will also need to be wary of speedster Billy Hamilton, who has wreaked havoc on the basepaths since getting called up last Monday. Hamilton, still seeking his first at-bat, has stolen four bases in as many tries and scored three runs as a pinch runner.
"The more you try to stop it, the more bad pitches you throw," Sveum said. "You don't really stop that kind of speed, otherwise people would've stopped it."