Chicago Cubs can make last effort to pull out of NL Central cellar


After a nice stretch where the Chicago Cubs played solid ball, going 12-8 toward the end of August and into September, the wheels came off somewhat in the past ten days. The Cubs have lost seven of eight, and are running out of gas as they reach the finish line of the 2014 season. The good news is the Cincinnati Reds haven’t been much better, and the Cubs only trail the division foe by 5 1/2 games. If Chicago can somehow take the upcoming three-game set, they can make it interesting in the last two weeks.

The Cubs also will get a little bit of ‘reinforcements’ as Jorge Soler will return after the birth of his first child, and Anthony Rizzo returns for Monday night’s opener. The Cubs have essentially been playing spoiler for the last month against several teams in the mix for playoff spots. This series will actually give them something more to play for.

The opener will pit Travis Wood (8-12, 5.03) against Alfredo Simon (14-10, 3.48). Wood is coming off a horrendous start where he lasted only 1 2/3 innings, and was pushed back from Sunday to Monday’s start because of that outing. Simon is having a great year, but has only two wins in the second half of the season. The Cubs will have their hands full, as Simon is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA against them this season.

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Game two of the series will see a great pitching match-up of two guys having career years. Jake Arrieta (8-5, 2.82) is coming off a no-decision in which he took the lead into the seventh against the Blue Jays. Arrieta has posted 16 quality starts, and has become the ‘staff ace’ without question. He’ll face off against Johnny Cueto, who’s looking for a chance at his first 20 win season (19 wins in 2102). Cueto is 3-0 in his last three starts with a 1.17 ERA. That includes eight scoreless against the Cubs last Thursday.

In the rubber game of the series, rookie Kyle Hendricks (6-2, 2.30) will look to continue his fine campaign against another rookie, Daniel Corcino (0-0, 5.19). Hendricks is coming of a loss against the Jays in which he surrendered four runs in 5 2/3 innings. Its only the second time he’s allowed that many runs, and the first since his debut against the Reds. Corcino is making his second career start, and impressed enough in his first to earn another opportunity. Corcino allowed two runs and two hits over six innings against the Brewers in his first start.

This late in the season, the Cubs are simply trying to identify what they have, get the rookies game experience, and prepare for next season. But this series can offer Chicago a real chance of catching the Reds and avoiding another last place finish in the NL Central.