Halfway through their stretch of 20 games in 20 days, the Cincinnati Reds find themselves atop the division standings. They play the final three of their current 10-game home stand starting tonight against the Chicago Cubs.
After winning two out of their opening 3-game series against Pittsburgh, the Cubs have gone 3-11 to drop into last place in the division. It’s where many predict the team will finish as Theo Epstein continues rebuilding an organization that lost 100 games last season.
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WHERE TO WATCH
Two of the matchups will get national exposure on WGN (Tuesday) and MLBN (Wednesday.) In the Cincinnati area, only the night games on Monday and Tuesday will be televised on FSO. For those of you in the Chicago television market, Monday’s and Wednesday’s games will also be on CSN.
CHICAGO’S OFFSEASON MOVES
Epstein made very minor upgrades to a team that ranked 14th in the National League in runs scored last year. Geovany Soto (mid-season trade), Tony Campana, and Bryan LaHair, are replaced on the roster by Dioner Navarro, Nate Schierholtz, and Scott Hairston.
On the pitching side, Chicago only retained Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, and the still-rehabbing Matt Garza for the starting rotation. They added four starters through free agency: Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva, Scott Baker (DL), and Scott Feldman.
The bullpen remains another weak link overall for Chicago. Epstein added a quality late inning arm from the international free agent market, signing Kyuji Fujikawa of Japan.
PROBABLE BATTING LINEUP
The Cubs have brought back most of the starting eight from the end of last season. Nate Schierholtz is the only change to the everyday lineup. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are the foundation of this lineup and the future of the Cubs rebuilding campaign. Rizzo is the Cubs strongest power threat with 6 homeruns already this season.
The Cubs bench isn’t contributing in a positive way at all. The rest of the offensive players not listed above have combined for a .137/.176/.265 slash line in 125 plate appearances. The bench has also been caught stealing twice in three attempts.
We may see former Reds Dioner Navarro and Dave Sappelt make an appearance in a pinch-hitting or spot start role in this series.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
Carlos Marmol started the year in the closer’s role and has already lost his job. Kyuji Fujikawa took over the role temporarily until he landed on the disabled list. That leaves closing duties “by committee” to either veteran Shawn Camp, left-handed reliever James Russell or righty Michael Bowden.
While Theo Epstein continues to rebuild the Chicago roster, ownership is also working to literally rebuild Wrigley Field. The Cubs are not expected to be competitive until 2015. Maybe 2014 at the earliest. They do have some talented young players on their squad, but currently lack the depth and talent of other teams in the division.