We are officially on to September, where things really start to get intense and playoff races reach their thrilling conclusion. That sentiment could hardly be truer for these NL Central adversaries, the Cubs and Reds, as they prepare for a huge four-game set across just three days, with Friday featuring a doubleheader. Let’s take a look at the odds for the first game of that two-for-one special, where my prediction is a Cubs win and under 9.5 runs.
Cubs vs. Reds Prediction
The Cubs, who have won six of their past eight games, are in great position after a series win against division-leading Milwaukee. They’ve charged up from soundly below .500 to nine games over, sitting in the NL’s #5 seed, 2.5 games away from missing the playoffs, and three from taking over as leaders in the Central. Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas; it’s an extremely competitive Wild Card race, with the Giants just a game and a half back, and three non-playoff teams within three games of them.
The Reds are one of those teams, as they sit 1.5 games behind the Giants after spending much of the season in a Wild Card spot or atop the Central. They’ve cooled off significantly, and while the Division crown is most likely a pipe dream, a Wild Card is still on the table for Cincy. They’re a young team that has gotten younger in recent weeks by bringing up prospects like Noelvi Marte and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who have joined rookies Elly De La Cruz and Spencer Steer, as well as second-year pro Will Benson.
Chicago has also tapped into their farm recently, although not as broadly and purely out of necessity. With a depleted rotation, the Cubs turned to 2021 first round pick Jordan Wicks to make a start, which he did last Saturday in his MLB debut. The results were outstanding, as he settled in after a shaky start to finish with a remarkable debut line of 9 strikeouts, one walk and one run allowed in 5 innings of work. He helped the Cubs to a win over the Pirates, and flashed a nasty, rarely-seen lefty changeup.
Even the best prospects usually experience some sort of growing pains, and it’s possible that Wicks could come crashing back down to Earth as soon as Friday, but I’m going to put my faith in him to keep up the great work. His changeup-heavy six-pitch arsenal is going to take some getting used to for even MLB hitters, and it’ll be hard to dial him in until there’s a bit more of a scouting report on him.
Graham Ashcraft will be working the top half of innings, and he provides some reason for concern, but 9.5 runs is quite a bit for two offenses that have faltered of late; I’ll back the under in this one, as well as the Cubs on the near-even moneyline. The moneyline is a no-brainer at those odds, with the Cubs in much better form and probably throwing a better pitcher, even given his lack of experience.
Cubs vs. Reds Prediction: Cubs ML (-112), u9.5 runs (-114)
Cubs vs. Reds Odds
Cubs vs. Reds Key Matchups
Jordan Wicks vs. Top of the Lineup
Wicks gave up a homer to the first big league batter he faced, before surrendering a single and a walk. From that point on, he mowed down 15 straight batters before exiting, so his big challenge in start number two will be to come out of the gates stronger. Cincy’s first inning offense is about average, and certainly better than Pittsburgh’s, so we’ll see how the lefty fares.
The lineup starts with the lefty TJ Friedl, who is entrenched in a serious slump, and could provide Wicks with a nice confidence out. Promising rookie Spencer Steer is also a bit cold, but absolutely crushes lefties, so we’ll see what he can accomplish against Wicks. Up third is another rookie, the electrifying Elly De La Cruz, who is also slumping- this lineup is not hot right now- and really struggles against left handed pitching.
In the cleanup spot is journeyman Nick Martini, who is absolutely crushing the ball across 9 games as a Red this year, followed by Christian Encarnacion-Strand, coming off of his first four-hit game in the majors, including a big homer. Waiver additions Hunter Renfroe and Harrison Bader could factor in, but regardless, the top of this lineup will be a new challenge for the young Wicks.
Graham Ashcraft vs. Righty Bats
Strangely enough, righty bats hit extremely well against Ashcraft, who is himself a righty- their OPS against him is nearly 140 points higher than the figure for lefty bats. Luckily for him, Ashcraft will be running into a lot of lefty bats in the Cubs lineup, including Cody Bellinger who has been exceptional but like Ashcraft, has a reverse split and performs better against fellow southpaws. Still, there are some major righty threats to deal with in the Cubs lineup.
Switch-hitter Ian Happ prefers to hit righties, but does so mostly as a lefty, save for exactly one at-bat, in which he went deep- food for thought. As far as full-time righties, there are three major ones; Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson, and Christopher Morel. Hoerner and Swanson have been two of the Cubs’ most consistent performers this year, as each have totalled 4 WAR, tied for second on the team behind Bellinger. Morel has missed time and been somewhat streaky, but has flashed power with 19 homers in 85 games. These bats are a major reason I like the Cubs to hit their -112 moneyline in my Cubs vs. Reds prediction.
Cubs vs. Reds Starting Lineups
Cubs Starting Lineup
CF M. Tauchman L
2B N. Hoerner R
LF I. Happ S
1B C. Bellinger L
SS D. Swanson R
DH C. Morel R
3B J. Candelario S
C Y. Gomes R
RF S. Suzuki
Reds Starting Lineup
CF T. Friedl L
2B S. Steer R
SS E. De La Cruz S
DH N. Martini
1B C. Encarnacion-Strand R
LF N. Senzel R
RF W. Benson L
3B N. Marte R
C L. Maile R