The Chicago Cubs won the last two National League Central titles, and they should offer the Cincinnati Reds a thank you for being a big reason for that success.
Don’t think that won’t be on the minds of both teams Monday as the Cubs and Reds open up a two-game series at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, where the Cubs were a combined 13-6 the last two seasons.
The Cubs were 15-4 against the Reds before winning the World Series in 2016 – they didn’t beat any other opponent more than 10 times – and they were 12-7 against them last season, again their most against any other team.
That’s 27 victories in only two seasons against the same opponent. That’s something the Reds must fix if they’re ever to break out of a run of three consecutive last-place finishes and 90-plus loss seasons in the NL Central.
The Reds’ perennial problems – the lack of pitching depth and a repeated inability to drive in key runs – showed up as they were swept by the Washington Nationals in their three-game, season-opening series at Great American Ball Park.
Bryce Harper homered twice, and Anthony Rendon and Adam Eaton hit two-run shots as the Reds wasted four runs in the final two innings while losing 6-5 Sunday.
“It’s frustrating to lose, because we want to make some big changes this year,” manager Bryan Price said after the Reds scored only two earned runs in 18 innings against Nationals starters Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. “If you’re 0-3 and end up winning 90 games, nobody gives a darn you lost the first three. It’s frustrating, but not to the point where anybody is down. We’ll take on the Cubs as they show up [Monday] and get after them.”
While their inability to beat the Cubs is all too familiar for the Reds, Chicago’s starting pitcher on Monday isn’t. Right-hander Tyler Chatwood, a combined 20-24 the last two seasons with the Colorado Rockies, will make his first Cubs start after signing a $38 million, three-year contract during the offseason. Chatwood was 8-15 with a 4.69 ERA last season in 33 games, including 25 starts.
The Cubs didn’t get the good starting pitching they expected as they split a four-game series in Miami in which their starters had a 6.86 ERA. The Marlins won 6-0 Sunday behind left-hander Dillon Peters’ six shutout innings and a five-run fifth inning against Jose Quintana that featured Brian Anderson’s three-run homer.
“The starting pitching has not been as good as it can be and the bullpen is overtaxed,” manager Joe Maddon said. “[But] I’m always accused of being an optimist, and I’m not disappointed.”
The Cubs are hoping a change of scenery, and home ballparks, will be all that Chatwood needs to significantly upgrade his numbers. His 2.57 ERA on the road the last two seasons is the second lowest in the National League. Since 2012, his 3.18 ERA away from Coors Field is much better than his 5.17 ERA at the Rockies’ ballpark.
However, Chatwood is 0-3 with a 5.09 ERA in four career games against the Reds. Billy Hamilton is 3-for-6 with two doubles and a triple against him, and Joey Votto is 2-for-7.
“He is very driven and motivated right now. This guy could pitch in any rotation in the big leagues,” Maddon said of Chatwood. “It’s just a matter of where you want to spot him, his stuff is that good.”
Chatwood opposes 23-year-old right-hander Tyler Mahle, who made his major-league debut by going 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts last season, striking out 14 in 20 innings. He’s another of the quartet of young but promising starting pitchers the Reds are rolling out this season.
Mahle, a seventh-round draft pick in 2013, was 13-8 with a 2.43 ERA for Class A Dayton in 2015, then finally made it to the majors last season. He jumped into the rotation after striking out 10 over five innings in his first two appearances this spring, although he gave up six runs and 10 hits over four innings in his final spring training start against the Texas Rangers.