For a team looking toward next year, the Chicago Cubs have done a fine job of playing spoiler during their visit to Cincinnati. The last-place Cubs try to finish off a sweep of the Reds on Wednesday. It would be Chicago's first three-game sweep over Cincinnati since July 24-26, 2009, and its first in the Queen City since May 28-30, 2001.
The Reds can't afford another loss to the lowly Cubs, as they've slipped three games behind St. Louis in the National League Central and have seen their lead over Washington trimmed to six in the race for the second wild card. Cincinnati's once-potent offense has been quiet in the series, scoring only one run over the first two games. Several of the Cubs' top hitters have fared well against scheduled starter Mike Leake, led by Nate Schierholtz (8-for-16, one homer), Anthony Rizzo (6-for-14), Luis Valbuena (6-for-14), Darwin Barney (9-for-26) and Starlin Castro (12-for-38).
TV: 12:35 p.m. ET, WGN (Chicago), FSN Ohio (Cincinnati)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Cubs RH Jeff Samardzija (8-11, 4.29 ERA) vs. Reds RH Mike Leake (12-6, 3.46)
Samardzija's inconsistent season continues, as he has followed two dominant outings with a pair of poor ones. He allowed six runs over six innings in a no-decision against Miami last time out and has surrendered 11 runs in 12 2/3 innings over his last two starts. The 28-year-old is 1-2 with a 4.41 ERA in 20 games (six starts) against Cincinnati, including an 0-1 mark this year.
Leake broke out of a funk last time out, holding the Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs over 7 2/3 innings for his first quality start since Aug. 11. The 25-year-old has been much better on the road (7-2, 3.05 ERA) than at home (5-4, 3.92) but has won his last two starts at Great American Ball Park. Leake is 6-2 with a 3.24 ERA in 13 starts against the Cubs, including a 2-0 record this season.
1. Reds SS Zack Cozart is riding a career-high 15-game hitting streak. Cozart is 5-for-18 versus Samardzija.
2. The Cubs will employ a six-man rotation for the next two turns, allowing RHP Scott Baker two more big-league starts before the end of the season. Baker made his first start since Tommy John surgery in April 2012 on Sunday.
3. Reds LHP Sean Marshall threw 22 pitches in a live batting practice session Tuesday and did not experience any issues. The reliever has not pitched since May 24 because of a sprained left shoulder.
PREDICTION: Reds 4, Cubs 3