The Cincinnati Reds made it through the hard part of their current homestand better than they could have hoped. Now they have to try and not look past the last-place Chicago Cubs, who come to Great American Ball Park on Monday evening to begin a three-game series.
The Reds' 10-game residency began with seven contests against a pair of playoff contenders in the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati emerged from that stretch with six victories, including a weekend three-game sweep of the NL West leaders.
The six victories in seven games has the Reds tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for second place in the NL Central, 1 1/2 games back of the Cardinals. Cincinnati is also eight games in front of the Washington Nationals for one of two wild card spots.
Cincinnati found itself tied with Los Angeles heading into the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday thanks to a pair of solo homers by Jay Bruce and won in walk-off fashion when Ryan Hanigan doubled home Zack Cozart from first base, ripping a pitch off the Dodgers' Ronald Belisario down the left-field line.
"He tries to get guys out with that sinker. I was looking for it. It's one of those games. Kind of went the way we expected. A lot of quality pitching, low scoring. But, it was an awesome way to win," Hanigan said.
The Reds won their fourth straight contest, their longest winning streak since a five-game run from Aug. 11-15. That stretch included a three-game sweep in Chicago.
Cincinnati has won 13 of 16 over Chicago this season and is 28-7 in this series dating back to the end of the 2011 campaign. The Reds have won 11 of 15 at home in that span.
Bronson Arroyo looks to continue that success tonight and has won both of his starts versus the Cubs this year. He threw seven scoreless innings to win in Chicago on Aug. 14 and is 13-9 with a 2.92 earned run average in his career versus the Cubs.
Arroyo is 13-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 28 starts this season overall. He won four of six decisions in August, then opened September with a no-decision versus St. Louis on Wednesday. The righty allowed three runs -- two earned -- on seven hits over seven innings. He also did not walk a batter for the fifth time in his last six outings.
Arroyo, 36, is 7-2 with a 3.00 ERA in his last 13 starts at home.
The Cubs, 22 1/2 games off the pace in the NL Central, counter with All-Star Travis Wood, who is 8-11 with a 3.17 ERA in 28 starts this year and will look to beat his former Reds club for the first time.
Wood, a second-round pick of the Reds in 2005, is 0-3 in four starts against Cincinnati this year and 0-4 versus the club lifetime with a 4.15 ERA in six starts.
The 26-year-old southpaw snapped a three-decision slide with a win over the Dodgers on Aug. 27, giving up one unearned run over seven innings, but fell in defeat last Monday versus Miami. Wood gave up four runs over seven frames, yielding a pair of homers. One was hit by opposing pitcher Henderson Alvarez, a three-run shot.
"It was kind of a funny outing. He couldn't get the left-handed hitter out in their lineup and he couldn't get the pitcher out," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Wood.
The Cubs hit the road for 11 in a row following a 4-5 homestand. They failed to finish the residency above .500 by losing two straight to Milwaukee, giving them a loss in 21 of their past 28 games at home.
Scott Baker, in his first Major League appearance since Sept. 24, 2011 due to Tommy John surgery, hurled five scoreless innings of two-hit ball, but the bullpen failed to hold a lead after Junior Lake hit a solo homer in the fifth frame to account for Chicago's only run.
"There were some emotions there. It's been a long road and I was happy my family was here to share this moment because they're just as much a part of this as I am," Baker said.
Chicago finished with just three hits and has lost four of its last six.