|Cubs start series vs. resurgent Reds|
Any time seems to be the right time for the Chicago Cubs to play the NL Central Reds. After all, Chicago took 43 of 62 from Cincinnati over the last four seasons.
Maybe this time, for a change, isn't the right time.
Sure, the Cubs just got done taking two of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field, and they're competing with the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the division. They also took three of four from the Reds in Cincinnati only a month ago.
"To be able to take two of three (from the Dodgers) after losing the first game in the manner we did, I give our guys a lot of credit," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team lost a ninth-inning lead in the series opener.
But as the Cubs and Reds open a four-game series Thursday night at Great American Ball Park, the Cubs -- winners of four of their last six games and 13 of their last 19 -- aren't the only team that's trending well. The Reds, still trying to rebound from their horrific 8-27 start, have won six of eight and are coming off a two-game sweep of the AL Central-contending Detroit Tigers.
"Hopefully we can run off a few wins and make the season a little interesting for everybody (at the ballpark) -- and for us in the clubhouse, too," Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said following a 5-3 victory over the Tigers on Wednesday.
That would take quite a few wins given the Reds' double-digit deficit in the NL Central race. But they've begun making life difficult for teams with better records than they have.
"As people have said through the history of the game, momentum is only as good as your next day's starting pitcher," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "We're just trying to win the game today. You enjoy (winning) ... but we will come here (the next day) and try to get the next one."
The Reds will send still-inconsistent right-hander Matt Harvey (1-5, 5.92 ERA) to the mound Thursday to face Kyle Hendricks (5-6, 3.55). The Cubs right-hander can only hope to supply the momentum that Cubs starter Jon Lester did Wednesday while winning his fifth in a row, a 4-0 victory over the Dodgers.
Lester (9-2) walked three and struck out only one but limited the Dodgers to five base hits over seven innings before right-hander Anthony Bass pitched the final two innings.
Hendricks is 4-1 with a 3.57 ERA in 11 career starts against the Reds but didn't figure in the decision the last time he opposed them on May 19, a 5-4 Reds victory in which he gave up three earned runs and six hits in five innings.
Hendricks would like to get the same offensive support from shortstop Javier Baez that Lester did Wednesday, as Baez had two doubles and a triple for his first career three-extra-base-hit game. In his last 10 games, Baez is 10-for-24 (.417).
"I'm seeing the game (well)," Baez said. "And trying to do the small things."
The Cubs generally see the big picture quite well against the Reds, given their recent domination of them, but Harvey will try to change that.
He's still trying to gain traction since coming over to the Reds from the Mets. Harvey is only 1-3 with a 5.09 ERA in seven starts with Cincinnati -- and 0-3 since last his last win on May 22. Harvey also has allowed 16 earned runs and 23 hits in 21 1/3 innings over his last four starts, all of them Reds losses.
Harvey is 1-1 with a 4.57 ERA in four career starts against the Cubs, but most of their current hitters don't have much experience against him. Only Jason Heyward (3-for-11, .272) has double-digit at-bats against him.
Barnhart had five hits and reached base eight times in his last two games but is 6-for-25 (.240) against Hendricks. Joey Votto, who hit a grand slam Tuesday, is 8-for-16 (.500) with two homers against him. Scooter Gennett is 8-for-31 (.258).
In a scheduling quirk, this is the Cubs' third trip to Great American Ball Park already this season, while the Reds have yet to play in Wrigley Field. The final 10 games of the season between the two division opponents will be in Chicago.