The Chicago Cubs will try to win their series against the visiting Cincinnati Reds on Thursday night.
The Cubs (25-19) are coming off a 3-0 loss to the Reds, which marked their first shutout defeat of the season. They won the series opener by the same 3-0 score. The Cubs remain in first place in the National League Central with a 2 1/2-game edge over the second-place St. Louis Cardinals.
Chicago has lost five of its past eight games and struggled at the plate during much of that stretch. The Cubs’ job might not get any easier as Reds right-hander Sonny Gray (5-2, 3.19 ERA) prepares to take the mound.
Gray, 30, is looking to bounce back from one of the worst performances of his career. He failed to get out of the first inning Sept. 1 against the Cardinals, allowing six runs on five hits and three walks while recording only two outs.
The Reds responded by pushing Gray’s next scheduled start back by four days. He says he feels rested and ready.
“I moved on from it a long time ago,” Gray said to reporters. “I feel good with where I’m at now and I’ll take the ball (Thursday) and go out there, give it what I’ve got and walk away from it with my head held high.”
Cincinnati (19-24) needs Gray to be sharp as it continues a desperate push to climb back toward .500 and challenge for a spot in the expanded playoffs. The Reds sit in fourth place in the NL Central, but they are only three games behind the Cardinals for second place and a guaranteed postseason berth.
Gray is 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA in seven career starts against the Cubs. He has 50 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings.
Chicago will counter with a young right-hander in Adbert Alzolay (0-1, 2.08 ERA), who is scheduled to make his third start of the season and the fifth start of his career. He threw 78 pitches in his most recent outing Saturday against St. Louis but lasted only 2 2/3 innings as he gave up two runs on two hits and five walks while striking out four.
Alzolay, 25, pitched one scoreless inning of relief against the Reds on Aug. 29.
Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward will look for success against Gray after going 1-for-3 on Wednesday in his return from a scary weekend incident in which he went to a nearby hospital for tests. He left Sunday’s game because of lightheadedness and shortness of breath but was cleared.
“It feels good to be back in the lineup,” Heyward said. “I feel a lot better mentally, physically, knowing that I was in good hands.”
Meanwhile, the Reds are doing their best to stay relaxed despite the fact that time is running out on the season.
“We are where we are and we just need to play loose, play easy,” Gray said. “I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen at this point, you know? Not make the playoffs? Well, we’re not in there right now, you know.
“It is unfortunate that we are where we are, but at the end of the day, we can’t give up as a team. We can’t. We still have games. I hope the fans are still watching them. We are where we are, and we put ourselves there and we’ll see if we can dig ourselves out of it. We’ve got to try.”
–Field Level Media