Cubs-Reds Preview

The Cincinnati Reds have put up some big offensive numbers without slugger Joey Votto, though that could become increasingly difficult if two more key hitters have to miss time.

Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips could be out as the Reds go for their season-high sixth straight victory Thursday against the struggling Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park.

Even though Votto has been sidelined since Saturday with a strained quad, Cincinnati (49-42) has totaled 23 runs and batted .323 in this set and now goes for its first five-game sweep of the Cubs since 1931.

While Jay Bruce has keyed the five-game win streak with three home runs and 10 RBIs, Hamilton has been big in this series as he’s gone 7 for 15 with three triples and seven RBIs.

Hamilton is hitting .373 with seven steals versus Chicago (38-52) this season, but the speedy leadoff man expects to miss a few games after injuring his hamstring in Wednesday’s 4-1 victory.

"I knew something was happening," said Hamilton, third in the majors with 37 steals. "On the last at-bat, I stepped down and I felt it pull when I started running."

Phillips, hitting .308 at home, went 2 for 3 with an RBI before leaving in the eighth inning after spraining his thumb while making a sliding catch. X-rays were negative.

The Reds have closed within 2 1-2 games of the NL Central lead – their smallest deficit since April 7 – in part because they’ve won 10 of 12 at home.

Homer Bailey (8-5, 4.15 ERA) has been very good there since the beginning of May, posting a 2.49 ERA in six starts. He had won five straight at home before losing to Milwaukee on Saturday but went eight innings in the 1-0 defeat.

That came six days after Bailey threw a three-hit shutout at San Francisco.

The right-hander also had an impressive run against the Cubs come to an end June 24 when he allowed four runs over 5 1-3 innings in a 7-3 loss at Wrigley Field. He had been 7-0 with a 3.08 ERA in his previous 10 meetings – all Cincinnati victories.

Anthony Rizzo, who homered and doubled off Bailey in that contest, is 6 for 16 with three home runs in this series. Starlin Castro has six hits – two home runs – in 32 career at-bats when facing Bailey.

Castro is in a 2-for-20 funk, and the last-place Cubs have totaled 12 runs during a season-worst six-game losing streak while hitting .133 with runners in scoring position. Luis Valbuena (4 for 33), Junior Lake (1 for 27) and Welington Castillo (4 for 24) are also mired in slumps.

Chicago will try to provide some support for Kyle Hendricks, who is expected to be called up to make his big league debut.

The right-hander will get the chance to show what he can do following the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland last weekend. He earned his shot by posting a 3.59 ERA over 102 2-3 innings at Triple-A Iowa.

"The trade sends a ripple effect through the minor league system," manager Rick Renteria said. "For them, it opens opportunities. They still have to perform."

Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman has fanned at least one batter in each of his last 38 appearances, leaving him one shy of Bruce Sutter’s record for a reliever since 1900. He’s earned the save in each of the Reds’ last two games.