Although their surging offense could be missing Brandon Phillips, the Cincinnati Reds hope to move above .500 for the first time this season with one of the majors' biggest surprises taking the mound.
As Alfredo Simon looks to become the NL's first 11-game winner, the Reds go for their ninth win in 12 games Monday night in the opener of a three-game road set against Jeff Samardzija and the Chicago Cubs.Cincinnati (37-37) has averaged 8.1 runs and batted .424 with runners in scoring position over its last six games, but suffered a scare when Phillips left Sunday's 4-3 home win over Toronto in the fifth inning.Manager Bryan Price said the All-Star second baseman injured his heel on a swing and is day to day."I just felt like it was smart (to get him out)," Price told the team's official website. "We could get started on the treatment, get an X-ray, take a look at things, and hopefully there will be a lot of progress made between now and tomorrow's game."Phillips, who has 10 RBIs in his last nine contests, has knocked in 699 runs in his nine seasons with the Reds. He's trying to become the 12th player in franchise history to reach 700.However, he's struggled against the NL Central-worst Cubs (31-42) with just three hits and two RBIs in his last 33 at-bats.Jay Bruce has fared much better at Wrigley Field, hitting .419 in his last seven visits. He went 5 for 10 with two homers and four RBIs in the three-game set with the Blue Jays.Cincinnati might not need much scoring as Simon (10-3, 3.05 ERA) looks to win his fifth consecutive start after allowing three runs over 6 1/3 innings Wednesday in an 11-4 victory at Pittsburgh.The right-hander, who only had 19 starts over his first six years, now has a chance to join the New York Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka as baseball's only 11-game winners.Simon gave up two earned runs over 12-plus innings in a pair of wins over the Cubs in April. Anthony Rizzo is just 1 for 7 when facing Simon, though Luis Valbuena has gone 3 for 5 with a home run and three RBIs.Since winning eight of nine at Wrigley Field, Chicago has dropped three of four there following Sunday's 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh.Samardzija (2-6, 2.60), who has been the subject of trade rumors, has a 5.73 ERA in four June starts after posting a 1.68 mark in his first 11.The right-hander gave up three unearned runs and fanned eight over six innings Tuesday, but did not factor in the decision after the bullpen blew his one-run lead in a 6-5 loss at Miami. The Cubs are 3-12 in his 15 outings this season."That's the way it goes," said Samardzija, who is 0-5 with a 4.75 ERA in his last eight starts versus Cincinnati. "I go out and pitch and keep doing my job and making improvements."Billy Hamilton has gone 4 for 7 with a home run and Devin Mesoraco is 6 for 11 with a homer when facing Samardzija. Mesoraco, who was given Sunday off, looks to homer in his fourth straight contest.Chicago's Welington Castillo, activated from the disabled list Sunday, is hitting .444 with three homers in his last seven meetings with the Reds.