The Cincinnati Reds (11-11, 2nd place, 3.0 GB) complete the final three games of their three-team nine-game homestand against the Chicago Cubs (8-15, 6th place, 6.5 GB) Tuesday (7:10), Wednesday (7:10) and Thursday (12:35) at GABP.
Just a little over a week ago, these two teams faced off for three cold, miserable weather days in Chicago. We’ll find out if Dusty Baker is right about this Reds club being a warm weather team as the high temperature is expected to be over 80 degrees all week in Cincinnati.
CHICAGO’S BIGGEST OFFSEASON MOVE
The 2012 season is clearly a rebuilding year for the Chicago Cubs. Looking to move in a better direction this decade, the Cubs ownership’s biggest move this offseason was acquiring the front office minds of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. The Cubs hope that Epstein’s approach in Boston will lead to curse breaking performances in Chicago. MLB Trade Rumors compared the tenures of the outgoing and incoming Cub executives with their corresponding clubs:
Jim Hendry and Theo Epstein became GMs within months of each other in 2002, aiming to bring championships to teams with long histories of losing. Hendry fell short with the Cubs, creating three playoff teams in nine years and failing to reach the World Series. Epstein reached the playoffs twice as often in the same amount of time with the Red Sox, winning it all twice. But after missing the playoffs the last two years in Boston — and in epic fashion in 2011 — Epstein was ready for a new challenge and the Sox were willing to let him go with a year remaining on his contract. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, long an admirer of the Red Sox model, signed Epstein to a record-setting five-year, $18.5MM contract to become the team’s president of baseball operations.
SINCE THEY LAST MET
When the Reds left Chicago nine days ago, the Cubs were looking at a 4-12 record and already seven games back in the division. They had allowed 5.1 runs per game through their first 16. However, they’ve received much better pitching in the past week against the Cardinals and Phillies, holding those two teams to 3.1 runs per game. The Cubs come to Cincinnati having won as many games (4) in the last seven days as they had in their first 16.
After a rough start to 2011, the Reds finally got back to .500 at the close of April baseball. Overall the Reds averaged 4.0 runs scored per game and allowed 4.1 runs per game. However, the team started out scoring just 2.8 runs per game over their first 12 games while allowing 4.4 runs per game. The Reds scored exactly one run six times in those first 12 contests.
The offense has been much better recently. Over their last ten games, which includes the last Cubs series, the Reds have gone 7-3, averaged 5.4 runs/game, and have scored less than 4 runs in a game just once. Team pitching also improved during this recent period to cut opponents scoring to 3.7 runs/game.
CHANGES TO THE ROSTERS
–Ryan Dempster, SP – Placed on DL, retroactive to April 18. Missed the final start of the previous series between these two teams but is scheduled to return in game 3 of this series.
–Tony Campana, CF – A native of Kettering, Ohio, Campana was the official replacement for Dempster when he went on the DL. The speedy Campana has been playing centerfield and batting at the top of the lineup most days. He’s been one of the Cubs hottest hitter last week (.370/.414/.370) with 7 stolen bases in 9 games.
–Marlon Byrd, CF – The Cubs traded Marlon Byrd to the Boston Red Sox for RHP Michael Bowden and a PTBNL.
–Welington Castillo, C – Recalled from AAA retroactive to April 26 to replace injured backup catcher Steve Clevenger.
–Bill Bray, RP – Placed on the 15-day DL, retroactive to April 19. Currently on a rehab assignment with AAA Louisville.
–J. J. Hoover, RP – Recalled to replace Bill Bray in the bullpen: 3ip, 0h, 0er, 2bb, 2K.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
• Tues: Jeff Samardzija (2-1, 4.13 ERA) vs. Bronson Arroyo (1-0, 2.70 ERA)
• Wed: Paul Maholm (2-2, 6.20 ERA) vs. Homer Bailey (1-2, 3.60 ERA)
• Thurs: Ryan Dempster (0-1, 1.33 ERA) vs. Mike Leake (0-3, 6.65 ERA)
Merrillville, Indiana native Jeff Samardzija is in his 5th major league season, all with the Cubs. In his four starts this year, Samardzija has had two quality starts and two poor outings. He’s coming off 6.2 inning shutout performance in his last start against the St. Louis Cardinals. Samardzija has been plagued with control problems in his major league career, walking 5.0 batters per 9.
Paul Maholm started the season with back-to-back four-inning, six-run outings. He has since gone back-to-back six-inning, one-run outings, including a win last weekend against Cincinnati. Paul Maholm always seems to pitch well against Cincinnati. In 20 career starts against Cincinnati, Maholm is 7-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
Former Red Ryan Dempster is expected to return to the rotation on Thursday. He made three starts, all quality starts, before going on the DL.
STARTING POSITION PLAYERS AND TYPICAL LINEUP
If this is the lineup that Dale Sveum runs out there, their first four batters all sport an OBP greater than .350. Brian LaHair (.390/.471/.780) is off to a hot start as the team’s first baseman and cleanup batter.
Even with LaHair’s great start, Anthony Rizzo (.378/.427/.671 with AAA Iowa) is trying to force his way onto the Cubs roster. The Cubs acquired the 1st base prospect from the Padres after the Padres had acquired Yonder Alonso from Cincinnati. LaHair has played some corner outfield with the club, leading to increasing speculation that Rizzo could be called up soon with LaHair moving to the outfield.
The bottom half of the order features a number of struggling hitters. Alfonso Soriano (.513 OPS) has just two extra base hits and is still looking for his first homerun. Geovany Soto, (.127/.226/.236) who edged out Joey Votto for 2008 Rookie of the Year, is barely edging out Reds Willie Harris in production so far this year in almost twice as many plate appearances.
This is the type of team that the Reds need to beat and the type of series that the Reds need to continue to win. Mike Leake probably still has a bit of length left in his leash, but I can’t imagine him continuing to pitch this way throughout the month of May and still have a rotation job by the end of the month.