Reds-Cubs Preview

The Cincinnati Reds are under .500 and feeling the pressure of

falling further back in the NL Central race.

Facing the Chicago Cubs seems like an ideal way to gain ground,

but that may not be the case this time.

Red-hot Joey Votto will try to help the Reds continue their

success against the surging Cubs in Friday’s opener of a three-game

series at Wrigley Field.

Reigning NL Central champion Cincinnati (54-57) is fourth in the

division, 7 1/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee.

“Any way you cut it, there’s not a lot of games left,” pitcher

Bronson Arroyo told the team’s official website. “We’ve got to make

a move now.”

The Reds are coming off a lackluster series against the majors’

worst team, dropping two of three at Houston capped by a 5-4 defeat

Wednesday.

Facing Chicago (47-65) presents another good opportunity for the

Reds to begin climbing. Cincinnati has won 16 of the last 20

meetings, including eight of 10 at Wrigley Field.

“It starts with one, and then it builds from there,” manager

Dusty Baker said. “That’s what we’re trying to do now. Every game

is important. The closer you get, the closer (the division leaders)

feel you’re getting. You want them to see and feel you coming.”

The Cubs, though, are on a season-high five-game winning streak,

and they damaged another Central team’s hopes by completing a

four-game sweep at Pittsburgh with Thursday’s 7-6 victory.

Votto will try to help end the Cubs’ run. He owns a .432 average

with four homers and 10 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak, but

he’s just 3 for 21 with one homer and nine strikeouts in his last

seven games at Wrigley.

Mike Leake (9-6, 3.89 ERA) gets the ball looking to continue his

success against the Cubs.

The right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA in four starts against

Chicago, allowing three runs in six innings of a 14-3 victory in

his only visit to Wrigley on July 4, 2010.

He was staked to a 5-0 first-inning lead in Saturday’s 7-2 win

over San Francisco, yielding two runs – one earned – with seven

strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings. That followed a pair of losing starts,

in which Leake allowed three runs in 12 1-3 but was backed by one

total run.

“As a pitcher you never complain about runs,” said Leake, who

gets an NL-high 6.75 runs of support per nine innings.

The Cubs are batting .286 during their longest winning streak

since a six-game run in September, getting 11 homers from eight

different players.

“We’ve got some guys that can and should hit the ball out of the

ballpark from time to time,” manager Mike Quade said. “We’re not

built for speed. We need extra-base hits to score runs and win

games.”

Ryan Dempster (8-8, 4.96) takes the mound seeking his first home

win over Cincinnati since July 8, 2008.

He’s received no run support while losing the last two meetings

at Wrigley despite holding the Reds to seven hits over 13 1-3

innings. The right-hander has split two starts against Cincinnati

this year, allowing three runs and eight hits in 13 innings – with

Votto going 1 for 6 with three strikeouts versus Dempster.

Brandon Phillips is 3 for 26 in his career in the matchup.

Dempster earned a 6-3 win at St. Louis on Sunday, but was pulled

after allowing all of the Cardinals’ runs in the sixth inning.