The Cubs have the day off as they make there way to Cincinnati for another divisional showdown, this time with the Reds. The Cubs were struggling losing five of six games before getting back on track and stealing the last two games against the Brewers on Tuesday and Wednesday. They look to take back first place from the Reds who have gotten off to a strong 9-6 start.
Game One sees ace Jon Lester going up against Tim Adleman who is making a spot start for the Reds. Lester has gotten off to a great start this season with a minuscule 1.00 ERA in his first three starts. He will have a tall task at hand as he tries to slow down the hot Reds bats, who are slugging .443 as a team, good for 4th in the majors thus far. However with good numbers against the heart of the Reds offense (Euguenio Suarez, Adam Duvall, Zack Cosart and Joey Votto are a combined 15 for 67 (.223 AVG) against Lester) it has to have he, Cubs fans feeling good going into game one.
Game Two features Jake Arrieta, who gets his start pushed back a day, and Cody Reed who will also be making a spot start due to injuries in the Reds rotation to Brandon Finnegan and Anthony DeSclafani. Arrieta has gotten off to a very solid start striking out 21 batters in his first 3 starts of the year. His curveball has quickly become his most effective pitch and has generated a lot of bad swings with it. The only thing to worry about is the homerun ball. Arrieta has given up three already this season and the Reds have, again been slugging the ball well to start the year. Going into this start, Joey Votto is the only Reds starting position player to go deep off Arrieta so one can only hope the Cub righty can keep it that way.
Game Three is a the game Cubs fans may be dreading with Jon Lackey going up against fellow veteran Bronson Arroyo. Both pitchers come into this game having rough starts to the season with Lackey having struggles against the Reds last season as well. And even though Lackey has managed to strike out 19 batters in 18 innings in spite of his 4.00 ERA, he will be going up against a Reds offense that is tied for the least strikeouts in the majors. For the Cubs hitters, they most of them will be facing Arroyo for the first time seeing as many of them were not in the league before Arroyo’s three year absence from baseball. Luckily for the young hitters, Arroyo has a knack for giving up homeruns (he allowed a league worst 32 in 2013 when he last pitched a full season, and has already allowed 5 this season).
As mentioned before, the Reds have been off to a strong start offensively; Zack Cosart has had an outstanding start batting over .400 and getting on base nearly half of his plate appearances. That coupled with 19 homeruns as a team in 15 games, could mean potential trouble for the Cubs, however, if any body can slow down this Reds offense it’s Jon Lester who has hitters batting just .188 against him at Great American Ballpark in the past 3 years. Arrieta has had mixed results in Cincinnati as hitters are only batting .169 against him but has allowed 16 walks in just 24 innings. So if Arrieta spots his fastball well, there is no reason he can’t dominate the Reds on Saturday in game 2.
On offense for the Cubs, Kris Bryant will be a definite player to look out for in this series as Cincinnati seems to be his home away from home. The Cubs third baseman hits .312 at Great American Ballpark with 5 homeruns and 19 runs batted in, both are the most at any park not named Wrigley.
Two players that will need to step up offensively is going to be Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist. Rizzo may sound like a surprise because he has hit .400 over the past week but the Cubs first baseman has had his fair share so struggles against Reds pitching batting just .214. As the player with the most experience against this Reds staff, he will have set the tone early in the game to lift them offensively. Zobrist needs to step up for the complete opposite reason. Hitting just .188 so far this year, the veteran utility player will look to reverse his fortunes against a Reds staff against which he has a slash line of .279/.366/.557.
Where to Watch
Lester vs. Adleman
Start Time: 6:10pm CDT
Telecast: MLB Network (Out-of-Market only), WGN
Arrieta vs. Reed
Start Time: 12:10pm CDT
Telecast: MLB Network (Out-of-Market only) ABC-7
Lackey vs. Arroyo
Start Time: 12:10pm CDT
Telecast: CSN Chicago