NL Central Battle Has Playoff Implications

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Cubs vs. Reds, 1:10 ET

Yesterday, we took the only play that I offered with a win in the Tigers vs. Yankees game. There were just four games on the slate, so there wasn’t much to choose from. I’ve mentioned the schedule oddities this year, but it seems like more than ever before we have days with very few games and then jam-packed schedules later on. Today, I’ll focus in on the first of a jam-packed day between the Cubs and Reds as we focus on Game 1 of their doubleheader.

This is a very important series for both clubs – I suppose every series is important for every club with a playoff chance now that we are in September, but the Cubs and Reds both have realistic shots. Currently, the Cubs are in a better spot than the Reds as they own the second Wild Card slot as of now. They are also just three games back in the division and would certainly prefer to win the division instead of a Wild Card. The Cubs were able to squeak out a series win over the Brewers at home before embarking on this series. The Brewers came into the series super hot so perhaps it was time for them to cool down, or the Cubs, winners of four of their past five, just happened to be getting hot on their own. They need much of the same from their squad today and are just 4-5 against the Reds in nine matchups this season. Jordan Wicks is making his second start for the playoff-hopeful Cubs. In his first matchup, he struggled to start the game, giving up a home run to the first batter he faced. He then gave up another hit and another walk. After a mound visit, he was calmed down and able to turn in 15 consecutive outs, including nine strikeouts. He went the five innings, threw 80 pitches, and ended up getting the win.

WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 05: Graham Ashcraft #51 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches to a Washington Nationals batter at Nationals Park on July 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Reds have to set their eyes on the Wild Card at this point. Six games can still be made up between them and the first-place Brewers, but the Wild Card seems much more realistic. They can make a nice impact at least in the Wild Card standings if they get some wins against the Cubs this weekend. The Reds now return from a West Coast trip, but luckily for them, they had one day off before this series starts. They’ve played nine games against the Cubs, but they’ve only had two at home and split those. They send out Graham Ashcraft and I’m not sure he is the ideal person to put on the hill for the Reds. He has a 4.73 ERA and it increases by almost a run when he plays at home. Cover your eyes if you’re a Reds fan, his day starts have been even worse as he has a 6.34 ERA. Okay, we’ve covered the bad, is there any good for Ashcraft? Absolutely. He’s turned in six straight quality starts and has turned in a quality start in 10 of his last 11 outings. He did face the Cubs once this season and allowed three earned runs over five innings.

Ashcraft has pitched well, Wicks could potentially turn in another solid outing in his second ever start. At this point, it is kind of a toss-up over who will win. I would lean toward the Cubs because I think they are the better, and hotter team, but the problem is that I am a fan of them so I don’t want that playing into my decision here. I do also think Ashcraft has pitched really well lately so it is hard to fade him. I’m going to take the under 9.5 runs as I do think both starters should limit the damage.

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Written by David Troy

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