The Reds return home this weekend for a pivotal four game series against the Cubs. They’ll play a doubleheader on Friday, including a make-up game from earlier in the season, before playing the regularly scheduled Saturday and Sunday games.
The Cubs are in the midst of a hot stretch that has seen them move into the second Wild Card spot, going 18-9 in the month of August, and 31-15 since the All Star Break. The Reds have been trending in the opposite direction, going 10-17 in August and 19-25 since the All Star Break.
Friday, 1:10 pm and 6:40 pm (tentative)
Saturday, 6:40 pm
Sunday, 12:10 pm
The Reds currently sit three games behind the Cubs, and one game behind the Giants for the third Wild Card spot. While a weekend sweep is the only way for the Reds to pass the Cubs, even taking 3 of 4 would close the gap, and a series split would help to at least keep the gap manageable.
The offense alone helps sum up the difference in performance in these teams in the second half. While the Cubs rank 8th in the Majors with a 115 wRC+ in the second half, the Reds rank 28th with an 80 wRC+.
The Cubs are led by Cody Bellinger, who has regained his MVP form after a few consecutive down seasons. Only three Cubs players have recorded 50 or more plate appearances in the second half with a wRC+ below league average – Miguel Amaya, Christopher Morel, and Nick Madrigal. Here is a look at the Cubs’ second half performance.
Trade deadline acquisition Jeimer Candelario has helped to fill out the Cubs’ lineup, though fellow third baseman Patrick Wisdom actually leads the team in wRC+ since the All Star Break in a smaller sample size.
By comparison, the Reds have just three hitters with above average production in the second half, in Matt McLain, Luke Maile, and Will Benson. Here’s a look at the Reds’ offense since the All Star Break.
The Reds’ offense could be in line for some reinforcements this weekend. They claimed outfielders Harrison Bader and Hunter Renfroe off waivers Thursday, and both could provide value, particularly against LHP. While Bader is unlikely to provide any value with the bat against RHP, he’s among the league’s best against LHP and brings high quality defense to the table as well. Renfroe has fairly even splits this season, but has historically hit better against LHP. They’ll also potentially be getting another reinforcement in the form of Jake Fraley, who seems likely to return from the IL Friday after missing time with a foot injury.
While it’s unclear who either team will send to the mound in game two on Friday, the Cubs will send a pair of young pitchers to the mound on Friday and Saturday before turning to a veteran on Sunday.
Friday (Game 1): Jordan Wicks vs. Graham Ashcraft
Friday (Game 2): Both starters TBD
Saturday: Javier Assad vs. Andrew Abbott
Sunday: Jameson Taillon vs. Brandon Williamson
The Reds will seemingly have an advantage in Game 1 on Friday and on Sunday, sending two of the hottest pitchers in baseball to the mound in the form of Ashcraft and Williamson. Wicks will be making just his second career start Friday, so it’s unclear what to expect. He’s the lone LHP currently scheduled to start for the Cubs, pending the Game 2 starter announcement.
Saturday’s Cubs starter Assad is in his second season in the Majors, though he pitched just 37 2/3 innings in the Majors last season. His 2.96 ERA is much better than his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, which all hover closer to the 4.50 range. That could point to some potential regression that the Reds may be able to capitalize on this weekend.
Sunday’s Cubs starter Taillon has had a rough season as a whole, though his second half has looked somewhat promising with a 3.60 FIP and 3.95 xFIP. Still, that comes with a 4.86 second half ERA, so he’s still struggled a bit to keep runs off the board. It’s worth noting that Taillon has been much worse against LHH, providing a good opportunity for Reds LHHs in the form of Fraley, TJ Friedl, Nick Martini, Elly De La Cruz, and Will Benson.
The Cubs and Reds actually have fairly similar bullpens on the season in terms of ERA, ranking 12th and 14th, respectively. However, the Cubs rank in the top half of the league in FIP and xFIP, while the Reds rank in the bottom third in each. In the second half, again, both teams rank similarly in ERA, sitting in the middle of the pack. They’re much closer in FIP, with the Cubs just three spots ahead of the Reds, though the Cubs still have a sizable advantage in xFIP.
This may arguably be the most important remaining series for each of the two teams. After this weekend, the Reds will not play any more games against any of the other teams in the NL playoff hunt. They’ll finish the season with a rather weak schedule, having only Seattle, Minnesota, and potentially Cleveland as playoff hopefuls standing in their way. The Cubs, meanwhile, still have to face San Francisco (3 times), Arizona (6 times), Milwaukee (3 times), and Atlanta (3 times) before the end of the season, making a much more difficult path. If the Reds are able to close in on the Cubs this weekend, given their remaining schedules, the Reds could ultimately be in the better position to advance to the playoffs, even if the Cubs leave the series with a slight edge in the standings.
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