A seven-game West Coast road trip threatened to turn an already bad Cincinnati Reds season into something far, far worse.
Instead, the Reds swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games at Dodger Stadium and ended up taking five of seven contests on a swing that included three games against the San Francisco Giants. Now, surprisingly, the Reds -- out of nowhere -- are one of the majors' hottest teams with seven wins in nine games.
The Reds, coming off a 6-3 victory Wednesday in San Francisco and a much-needed day off, will try to keep the first burst of momentum they've had all season going Friday night when they begin a four-game series against the National League Central rival Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Right-hander Homer Bailey (1-5), coming off his first win of the season, takes an 8-3 record in 18 career starts against the Cubs into the matchup against left-hander Jon Lester (3-1), who was rained out of his scheduled start in Atlanta on Thursday night. Almost like he predicted he would be.
Rainouts are becoming a trend for the Cubs, who will lose yet another scheduled off day Aug. 30 to make up the game in Atlanta. The teams were rained out April 15 at Wrigley Field, a game that was made up Monday before the shortened series in Atlanta began.
Cincinnati still owns the National League's worst record at 15-29 and the Reds are 11 1/2 games behind in the division race, but second baseman Scooter Gennett said the season is beginning to feel a lot different for a team that lost all but eight of its first 35 games.
"We've been in almost every game the last few weeks," Gennett said. "It's been fun to have energy in the dugout all nine innings and to be in games. If we need three or four runs in the ninth, we still feel confident we can get up there and battle and at least get the tying run to the plate and make something happen. It's been a lot of fun."
Especially when the first one month-plus of the season was the polar opposite.
Especially for Bailey, the perceived staff ace who needed nine starts to finally get his first victory of the season. It was no work of art -- he gave up 10 hits and three runs Saturday against the Dodgers -- but he still earned the win.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I played very well, but our offense and bullpen ... were outstanding," Bailey said. "It was really a good team effort to be able to pick up this win and win this series."
However, Bailey is continuing to struggle, with a 5.59 ERA and a .285 opponent batting average. He's allowed an alarming 12 homers in 48 1/3 innings. Among the batters who give him trouble is the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, who is 9-for-22 against him with two homers and six RBIs. However, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Ian Happ are 0-for-4 against him.
Bailey last faced the Cubs in successive starts Aug. 16 and 22, permitting six runs in 8 2/3 innings.
The teams have met only once previously this season, a 1-0 Reds win on April 2 behind Tyler Mahle's six shutout innings. The second game of that scheduled two-game series was -- of course -- rained out, with the game to be made up as part of a doubleheader Saturday.
Much like Bailey against the Cubs, Lester enjoys success against the Reds, going 5-1 with a 4.27 ERA against them in 13 career starts. He was 2-0 against them last season, throwing five shutout innings during a 9-0 victory over Sept. 30. Billy Hamilton is 7-for-16 against him with two homers, while Joey Votto is 9-for-33 with a homer, Adam Duvall is 7-for-25 with one homer. Scooter Gennett is 1-for-8 and Scott Schebler is 0-for-11.
Lester has only one decisions in his last three starts, an 8-4 victory Saturday in which he limited the Chicago White Sox to one run and four hits in 5 2/3 innings -- in a game that was delayed by rain for 2 hours, 15 minutes.
"Can we just not get any rain one time?" Lester said then. "I'm sure in Atlanta it'll rain again, and we'll have another delay, and it'll be three in a row."
He was right.
The Reds hope to welcome back third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who sat out Wednesday with a sore right ankle.