As the Cincinnati Reds inch closer to wrapping up the NL Central, they realize their offense must get going before the playoffs begin.
A matchup with the Chicago Cubs’ Justin Germano could help their bats warm up.
In Tuesday night’s opener at Wrigley Field, the Reds look to beat the Cubs for the seventh time in eight games and send Germano to a sixth straight loss.
With an 11-game lead over second-place St. Louis and a magic number down to five, Cincinnati (88-59) could clinch the division before leaving Chicago on Thursday.
“Nobody wants anybody to clinch on your turf, that’s for sure,” manager Dale Sveum said. “It’s inevitable that they’ll clinch, you just don’t want them to do it on your place.”
Despite being a virtual lock to make the playoffs, the Reds haven’t looked too impressive lately. They’ve split their last 12 games, plating two runs or fewer six times.
Against Miami on Sunday, they matched a season best with 17 hits, but went 4 for 21 with runners in scoring position and left 14 men on base. Ryan Ludwick finally came through with a run-scoring single in the 11th inning to lift Cincinnati to a 5-4 win in salvaging the finale.
“We’re not swinging the bats as good as we like,” catcher Ryan Hanigan told the Reds’ official website. “For whatever reason, we’re getting our hits, but we’re not coming up with the big hits when we need them. We’ve got to keep at it and hope we can change that.”
Cincinnati has had no trouble offensively against the Cubs (58-89) lately, having won six of seven meetings while averaging 5.8 runs. Todd Frazier is leading the charge, batting .481 with two homers and 10 RBIs, while Ludwick is hitting .375 with five home runs and nine RBIs.
This stretch started Aug. 10, when the Reds knocked around Germano (2-7, 6.24 ERA) for six runs in 5 2-3 innings in a 10-8 victory. Ludwick went 2 for 3 with a two-run homer off Germano, and is 5 for 6 lifetime against the right-hander.
Germano is coming off one of his better outings, but that came against a Houston team which is last in the majors in runs with 534. He held the Astros to an unearned run and three hits while matching a career best with eight strikeouts in five innings Tuesday, but was still saddled with a 1-0 defeat. He had an 11.09 ERA in losing his previous four starts.
The Reds will likely be better rested than their hosts for the opener, spending their off day Monday in Chicago while the Cubs’ concluded their four-game series with the Pirates at 1:28 a.m. CDT on Tuesday with a 3-0 loss. The game started at 10:42 p.m. after a rain delay of 3 hours, 37 minutes.
Even with plenty of rest for Monday’s game, the Cubs’ offense looked sluggish — Darwin Barney had the team’s only two hits.
Chicago now has the difficult task of bouncing back against Homer Bailey (11-9, 3.93), who has a 1.66 ERA with 22 strikeouts over 21 1-3 innings in his three starts this month.
In Pittsburgh on Wednesday, he yielded one run and six hits over seven innings in a 2-1 victory, his first win since beating Chicago on Aug. 10. The righty is 3-0 with a 4.40 ERA in his last five starts against the Cubs, with the Reds winning each.
Starlin Castro, who is batting .333 with five doubles in 13 games against Cincinnati this year, is 5 for 15 with two homers lifetime against Bailey.