The Chicago Cubs keep looking for a breakout stretch to truly get their season going. Maybe a visit to one of their favorite cities is exactly what they need to start playing the way they were expected to when the season began.
The Cubs got their four-game weekend series off to a good start Friday when they beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-1 at Great American Ball Park.
And perhaps this is a positive sign for the Cubs: first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who came in hitless in his previous 12 at-bats, went 2-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs scored to get his average up to .202.
"With guys like Anthony who are really good, the biggest thing there is to help him relax and get him back on track," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Just permit the process to work its course: 'You're good, you're really good. You're going to get hot.' "
This would be a good weekend for it with the Cubs playing the National League Central rival Reds, who own the NL's worst record at 15-30 despite winning seven of their previous 10 games coming into Friday.
That's exactly what the Cubs have done now -- win seven of 10 -- to boost their record to 23-18 overall and make them 28-12 against the Reds in the last three seasons. That's by far the most wins they have against any opponent during that stretch.
No doubt if the late Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks were around, he'd be saying, "Let's play two" on Saturday -- and that's exactly what the teams will do as they make up an April 3 rainout in Cincinnati.
Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks (3-3) will oppose Reds right-hander Luis Castillo (3-4), who has won his last two starts, in the front half of the day-night doubleheader. Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana (4-3) takes on Reds right-hander Sal Romano (2-4) in the night game.
"Romano felt strongly that he wanted to pitch the night game and Castillo, it didn't matter to him, so we'll go with Castillo the first game," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said.
Hendricks has a 3.20 ERA despite losing his last start, 5-3 to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, when he gave up four runs (three earned) in six innings.
Like many of the Cubs' pitchers, he has had success against the Reds, going 4-1 with a 3.41 ERA in 10 starts.
Billy Hamilton (2-for-13, .154), Jose Peraza (2-for-9, .222), Scooter Gennett (6-for-29, .207) and Eugenio Suarez (4-for-19, .211) have trouble against him. Joey Votto (7-for-14, two homers, .500) and Duvall (5-for-14, one homer, .357) hit him well.
Castillo is beginning to turn his season around, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3 on Sunday while allowing two earned runs and four hits in six innings. He beat the New York Mets in his start before that. His only previous career start against the Cubs was a no-decision on Aug. 15 in which he pitched six shutout innings and allowed two hits in what became a 2-1 Reds victory. Rizzo was 1-for-3 (.333) against him.
Quintana and Romano are coming off rough starts.
Quintana allowed three homers among the six runs and nine hits he gave up in 4 2/3 innings of a 6-5 loss on Monday to the Atlanta Braves, a performance that elevated his ERA to 5.23. He faced the Reds twice last season, going 1-0 with a 4.66 ERA, as Tucker Barnhart went 2-for-3 (.667) and Votto was 2-for-5 (.400) against him. Suarez is 1-for-7 (.143).
Romano yielded six runs and eight hits in 2 1/3 innings of a 10-7 loss Monday to the San Francisco Giants after limiting the New York Mets to one run in six innings on May 5. He last faced the Cubs on Aug. 24, giving up two runs in seven innings of a 4-2 Reds victory.
Javier Baez is 2-for-3 (.667) against him, and Kyle Schwarber is 0-for-4 (.000) and Jason Heyward and Rizzo are 0-for-3. Heyward was activated Friday after being out since May 7 with a concussion. Heyward, who is hitting .224, was 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter Friday but is expected to start one of the two games Saturday.
"Saturday is the perfect day to get him going again," Maddon said. "(It's a) doubleheader and we got to spread the work out anyway."