A homestand that began with such promise has quickly turned sour for the Cincinnati Reds, who on Wednesday afternoon try to avoid getting swept at home by the Chicago Cubs for the first time in 12 years.
The Reds began their 10-game residency by taking three of four from the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals, then swept a three-game set from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are front running the NL West.
Cincinnati figured to keep the pressure on St. Louis with this three-game series against Chicago, but instead has been outscored 11-1 in losing two in a row to the Cubs for the first time since September of 2011.
The Reds won 13 of 16 versus the Cubs this season ahead of the series, but is now trying to avoid getting swept at home by Chicago for the first time since a three-game set from May 28-30, 2001.
"Sometimes it's one thing or another. That's how we are," Reds manager Dusty Baker told his club's website. "We took three great steps forward and take a couple of steps backward. Now it's time to step forward (Wednesday). We're in a position for a 7-3 homestand. You don't like losing this game and you don't like losing to the Cubs. If every homestand is 7-3, that's playing .700 ball. That's what we're playing for tomorrow."
After getting shut out in Monday's opener, the Reds fell behind early and dropped a 9-1 decision to the Cubs last night. Baker needed to go to his bullpen early after starter Tony Cingrani lasted just 1 2/3 innings before aggravating a back injury. It was his second start since returning from the disabled list.
The Reds were 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position in the series before Corky Miller ended the drought in the seventh inning with a pinch-hit double to score Zack Cozart from second base.
Cincinnati is now three games behind first-place St. Louis in the standings and owns a six-game edge for the league's second wild card spot.
Edwin Jackson hurled seven innings of one-run ball for the Cubs and hit his second career homer. It was one of four longballs in the game for Chicago, which got a pair of homers from Welington Castillo and a one from Donnie Murphy.
"We're playing better," Castillo said of the Cubs, who have won four of their last six to push their win total on the season to 62, one more than the club won all of last year.
The Reds hope to salvage the finale behind Mike Leake, who is 2-0 with a 2.18 earned run average in three starts versus the Cubs this year and 6-2 lifetime in this series with a 3.24 ERA in 13 starts.
Leake is 12-6 with a 3.46 ERA in 28 outings this year, matching his career high for victories in a season set in 2011. The 25-year-old righty is coming off a 3-2 win over the Dodgers last Friday, giving up two runs over 7 2/3 innings while retiring 13 of the final 14 batters faced.
The Cubs turn to Jeff Samardzija, who has won his past two decisions and has not suffered a loss since Aug. 8.
However, the righty has given up 11 runs and 17 hits over 12 2/3 innings in back-to-back no-decisions. He did strike out nine versus Miami last Wednesday, giving him 190 over 189 innings this year.
Samardzija, 28, is 8-11 with a 4.29 ERA in 29 starts this year, including 0-1 with a 4.13 ERA in four meetings with the Reds in 2013.