HEADLINE

Despite Rizzo injury, Cubs look to ensure playoff spot against Reds

Field Level Media

September 16, 2019 at 7:04 am.

The Chicago Cubs will go for their fifth straight win when they host the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night to open a three-game series.

But Chicago (81-68) might be distracted as it tries to close the gap on the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. Veteran first baseman Anthony Rizzo sprained his right ankle on Sunday, and the team will learn more about the severity of the injury when Rizzo undergoes an MRI before Monday’s game.

“It’s not ideal,” Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber told reporters. “The guy’s been a staple in the middle of the lineup for years now.”

The Cubs already are playing without star shortstop Javier Baez, who is expected to miss the rest of the season because of a hairline fracture in his thumb. The team also has been without players such as Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Ben Zobrist and Craig Kimbrel for extended periods of time this season as it tries to qualify for the postseason.

“We’re used to this, in a sense,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The depth has got to pick us up.”

Meanwhile, Cincinnati (70-80) will look to play the role of spoiler. The Reds are coming off a 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks and have won three of their past four contests.

In 16 meetings this season, the Reds have a 9-7 advantage over the Cubs and have outscored them 81-73.

Cubs left-hander Cole Hamels (7-7, 3.89 ERA) will make his 26th start of the season. He is looking to bounce back from three consecutive losses, including a 4-0 defeat in his last outing Wednesday against the San Diego Padres. He gave up one run on four hits in 4 1/3 innings in that game.

Hamels has a 7.58 ERA (25 earned runs in 29 2/3 innings) in his last seven starts. That is a far cry from his first 18 starts, during which he posted a 2.84 ERA (33 earned runs in 104 2/3 innings).

In 19 career starts against the Reds, Hamels is 11-2 with a 2.21 ERA. He has 114 strikeouts in 122 innings.

The Reds will counter with right-hander Sonny Gray (10-7, 2.80), who is slated to make his 30th start of the 2019 campaign. He is coming off a hard-luck loss in which he allowed three runs on two hits in 6 1/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners.

Gray is 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA in five starts against the Cubs. Four of those matchups have come this season, with Gray going 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA.

“He believes he’s the best pitcher out there and that he can get every hitter out,” Reds manager David Bell recently told reporters. “Combine that with his stuff and experience, he’s just continuing to get better. It’ll be exciting to watch how far he can take it.”

Reds slugger Eugenio Suarez clubbed his 46th and 47th home runs on Sunday. He is trying to challenge New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso for the home run title with two weeks remaining in the regular season.