The Cincinnati Reds (45-42) continue their final first-half home stand with their 4th meeting of the season against the Chicago Cubs (38-48). In the three previous series, the Reds have taken five of the eight games played, outscoring the Cubs 36-31.
These teams will play five games over the next four days. Monday and Wednesday are night games, and Thursday is an afternoon game. Tuesday is a day-night doubleheader to make up a game that was rained out earlier in the year. All of the evening games will be on Fox Sports Ohio. The two afternoon games will be aired nationally on WGN.
We wrote about these two clubs meeting just two weeks ago. Since that series, both the Reds and Cubs have gone 6-4. The Cubs went 3-4 against the Washington Nationals and swept the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
The biggest change for Chicago since that last Reds-Cubs series is a massive trade that they made with the Oakland A’s. We invited our good friend Joe Aiello from the Cubs blog the View from the Bleachers to discuss the trade and answer a few of our questions:
View from the Bleachers: For a team that is in the rebuild process, it’s hard to pick out a short term benefit to trading 40% of your starting rotation in one fell swoop, but if I had to pick something, it gives the Cubs a chance to evaluate a few names in the minors that are deserving of a look to see what they can do at the Major League level.
On the long term side, there is huge value in getting a guy like Addison Russell in return from Oakland. Russell is arguably the best shortstop in the minor leagues right now and could see the Majors as early as next year…as a 21 year old. He is highly coveted and teams are already blowing up the phone lines asking the Cubs what their long term plans are given the fact that Russell, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, and Arismendy Alcantara are all shortstops and all basically Major League ready. It’s a good problem to have as the Cubs will probably look to move one of them for a front line starting pitcher.
RN: As you noted, the trade involved 2/5th’s of the Cubs rotation, while this series features five games over four days. Who are the Cubs calling upon to replace the traded starters? And who is taking the temporary 6th starter’s spot needed in this series?
VFTB: There hasn’t been an official announcement on the Wednesday and Thursday games as of yet, but we know they will be recalling Tsuyoshi Wada to pitch the night game in Tuesday’s double header. Wada will be making his Major League debut on Tuesday and has pitched really well this season for AAA, Iowa. He’s by no means a long term prospect, given the fact that he’s 33 years old, but he deserves a chance to show what he can do here after nine really good seasons in Japan. His MLB debut has been a long time coming. He signed with the Orioles in 2012 to a two year deal but immediately needed Tommy John and never got the chance to pitch for them. He signed a minor league deal with a spring training invite this season with us and has been in Iowa all season, compiling a 9-5 record with a 2.66 ERA in 16 starts. He’s not going to blow you away. He relies on deception, which is what a lot of pitchers who come from Japan tend to do.
RN: With Epstein trading a player under team control next season (Samardzija), is the front office signaling that they are looking to compete in 2016 instead of 2015?
VFTB: It depends on how you’re defining compete. I think it’s been the goal to be competing for the division in 2016, with 2015 being a year to gain respectability and introduce the kids to the Majors. That appears to be right on track. The deal to move Samardzija had a lot to do with the fact that the way the Cubs viewed him vs what Samardzija viewed himself as were on two different planes. Samardzija wanted a long term deal for # 1 starter money. The Cubs didn’t want to commit that long to a starting pitcher that age. It is what it is and as a result, he’s now on another team.
VFTB: It’s been a little bit of a mixed bag so far this year for them, but I’d go out on a limb and actually say “core five” with Kyle Schwarber, who was selected 4th overall this June, tearing up the minor leagues so far. Baez started off spring training on a tear and had Cubs fans making the case that he should make the team out of camp. He didn’t, and struggled in AAA to start the regular season. He’s been playing better as of late, but this is really the first time he’s seen adversity in his minor league rise, and that’s a good thing.
Kris Bryant has been an absolute beast so far this year between AA and AAA, hitting 30 home runs on the season so far. He has not faced a level yet that he’s struggled at, and that is super exciting.
Jorge Soler just came back from the DL over the weekend and hit a home run the first game in the lineup. His biggest challenge in his development has been staying on the field. When he does, he hits the ball well. The problem has been that he’s missing so many games that it’s retarding is progression a little.
Albert Almora is the one that worries me a little. I think he has the makings of the face of the franchise type guy with his charisma and character, but he’s got to hit the ball to do that. He’s not struggling horribly, but I expect more from him.
If I had to put a timetable on these guys, I’d have to guess we’ll see both Baez and Bryant in the Majors next year, perhaps as early as the opening day roster, with Soler right behind if he can stay healthy. Almora could push for a late season call up in 2015, but a more conservative timetable has him up in 2016.
RN: How many more years do you believe Epstein has with ownership before needing to field a winning team? With fans?
VFTB: I don’t put a lot of stock or energy into what the fans say. Most fans are morons. It’s harsh, but if you look at it honestly, it’s the truth. Take a look at Twitter and follow the hashtag for any team and you’ll see it’s riddled with morons. Just today, I watched Met fan after Met fan say they didn’t want to trade for Starlin Castro because he sucks. This is the same Starlin Castro who has almost 800 hits in his Major League career before his 25th birthday. I think ownership knows what it has with Theo and Jed Hoyer and trusts their plan. They really haven’t had anything happen that would say the plan is not working. The issues in Chicago is that we’ve never taken the time to tear it down and build it back up the right way, so people do not know what that looks like. Pirates fans know what that looks like. Rays fans know what that involves. Cubs fans are learning. They’ll see real soon that it was worth the wait.
RN: Will the Cubs and WGN work out a temporary solution to keep games on WGN until the organization forms its own network?
VFTB: I don’t think it’s going to happen. They ended their partnership with WGN radio after this season, ending a deal that was in place 90 years. Most likely scenario will be a Cubs network of some kind. Until then, I’d expect less and less games on WGN and more and more going to Comcast Sports Net Chicago. It’s sad because I grew up watching the Cubs on WGN in Chicago. When they put some of the games on cable I was heartbroken (we were poor and didn’t have cable). These days, though, does it really matter. There are so many ways to consume the product that it really doesn’t make a difference.
The Reds will be sending every starting pitcher to the mound in this series with the exception of Mat Latos who pitched yesterday. The club has not yet announced who will start the second game of the Tuesday doubleheader. David Holmberg will likely get the nod, as he is already on the 40-man roster and was pulled 50 pitches into his July 4th start to keep him available as a Tuesday callup.
The Cubs will have Edwin Jackson going tonight, facing Cincinnati for the 4th time this year. Travis Wood will get the ball for the Tuesday afternoon game. It will be the first time he’s pitched against his former club this season. In his last 3 starts, Wood has allowed 9 runs, 19 hits and 12 walks over 15 innings while striking out just 11 batters.
As Joe noted above, Tsuyoshi Wada is expected to make his major league debut on Tuesday night. The Cubs starters for Wednesday and Thursday have not yet been announced.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS A huge thank you to Joe Aiello for spending time with us to discuss the Cubs and their recent trade. That organization is really stocking their system with a lot of talented players which will make this an even more challenging division in the next couple of years.