The Cincinnati Reds appeared to have a prime opportunity to keep driving toward the NL Central lead with a series against the lowly Chicago Cubs.
Instead, the Reds will be seeking to avoid their first home sweep to the Cubs in 12 years Wednesday, and Mike Leake will try to help with another strong outing against Chicago.Heading into this three-game set, Cincinnati (82-64) had taken six of seven against Central leader St. Louis and the West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. The Reds had also won 22 of 26 over the Cubs (62-82) but have been outscored 11-1 in the first two games.Chicago hasn't won three in a row since July and hasn't swept a series in Cincinnati since May 28-30, 2001."I don't know if you can call it a letdown. I don't know if you call it not focused. I don't know if you call it not enough energy. I don't know if you call it those guys came in to play spoilers," outfielder Ryan Ludwick said. "I don't think anyone wanted to lose two to the Cubs. They're a major league team, but they're in last place, and we're trying to chase down a couple of teams in front of us."The Reds were held scoreless in the first 15 innings of this series until Corky Miller's RBI double in the seventh of Tuesday's 9-1 defeat. Welington Castillo hit two homers and Donnie Murphy drove in three runs as Chicago recorded back-to-back wins in Cincinnati for the first time in two years.The Reds were within 1 1/2 games of St. Louis in the NL Central and tied with Pittsburgh for second before this series. They're now three games behind the Cardinals and two back of the Pirates.Leake (12-6, 3.46 ERA) will try to get his club's playoff push back on track by improving on his 2-0 record and 2.18 ERA in three matchups with Chicago this season. He gave up one run and three hits over eight innings to win the most recent one, 2-1 on June 12.The right-hander heads into this outing after beating the Dodgers on Friday, yielding two runs in 7 2/3 innings of a 3-2 victory. He had given up at least four runs in each of his previous four starts and was 0-1 with a 9.28 ERA in the last two.Leake is 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA in five career home starts against Chicago and will pitch opposite a struggling Jeff Samardzija in this one.Samardzija (8-11, 4.29) has given up a combined 11 runs and 17 hits, including three homers, in 12 2/3 innings over his last two starts. He didn't receive a decision either time."My baseball command has been spotty," Samardzija told the team's website. "It needs to be better."The right-hander has a 6.75 ERA in his last two starts against the Reds -- both in Chicago -- but also avoided decisions in those games. Samardzija performed better in his only start in Cincinnati this season, giving up two runs -- one earned -- and four hits over six innings May 4, but the Cubs bullpen couldn't hold a two-run lead in a 6-4 defeat.