Apr 27, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake (44) pitches during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Great American Ballpark. Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Sweet Home Chicago? Not in the “No Blue Zone”

While many of us Reds fans may have uttered the phrase (myself included) that Great American Ball Park feels like “Wrigley Field South” when the Chicago Cubs come to town (so often filled with blue from the fans of that team), I don’t think that anyone would expect a neighboring business of GABP to take that phraseology and apply it to an advertisement prior to this week’s series.  This isn’t going to be an editorial on the merits (or poor marketing advisement) of this particular business, so the Reds marketing department taking the opportunity to market GABP as a “No Blue Zone” is admirable for the encouragement of actual Reds fans to come to the ballpark.  That being said, with the exception of weekend game attendance, weeknights have been sparsely attended affairs.

A Cubs-Reds series tends to draw well, notably for that northside team from the Windy City that travels well and has fans almost anywhere they go. GABP doesn’t tend to be a “hostile environment” for the Cubs, feeling far more like that “friendly confines” place that saw these teams play a little over a week earlier.  The crowd itself certainly doesn’t make the team, but this team could certainly use some hometown support against the boys in blue.  A preview of this series shows more of a pitching challenge than the first go-round as the Reds will face only one repeat starter and two pseudo-aces for the Cubs seeing their first starts against the Reds this year.

Arroyo pitches during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ballpark. (Image: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE)

Game 1 probables: Jeff Samardzija versus Bronson Arroyo

Most would not have expected Bronson Arroyo to have become the most consistent starter out of the gate this side of Johnny Cueto, but he has been extremely reliable.  His last three starts have been nothing short of sparkling, sporting a measly 1.77 ERA and a 1-0 record over 20 1/3 innings.  The fact he has that lone win is unfortunate with his performance, but, with the resurgent offense finally coming to life in the past two series, he can certainly expect better things to come if his work continues.  Arroyo is opposed by Jeff Samardzija, the steady bullpen reliever turned starter, who came out of the gate strong for the Cubs but has struggled more recently. He still maintains a winning 2-1 record, but his rising 4.13 ERA points to a pitcher who can be hittable.  His last three starts with a 5.87 ERA over only 15 1/3 innings give some credence to this fact.  Which Samardzija shows up Tuesday night (and how the Reds perform against him) could set the tone for the rest of the series.

Game 2 probables: Paul Maholm versus Homer Bailey

Bailey pitches during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ballpark. (Image: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE)

For Reds fans, seeing Homer Bailey doing what he did his last outing versus the Cubs at Wrigley (and notching his first and lone win of the season to date) was encouraging if unspectacular. His last start this past Thursday was far more enlightening and pointed to some effectiveness that many were hoping to see. If not for Sean Marshall having his first blown save in that series finale, Bailey would be sitting on a 2-2 record after that performance.  Regardless, fewer people are calling for Bailey’s head at this point than they were after Spring Training (when many felt the roles should have been reversed between Aroldis Chapman and him).  What the Reds better hope to do better than the first time is hit off Paul Maholm, who more or less owned the offense limiting it to only one run en route to his first win of the season and the lone win the Cubs earned in the first series.  After struggling badly out of the gate with losses versus the Brewers and Cardinals (lasting only four innings in both games and giving up identical six runs on six hits in both efforts), Maholm bounced back against the Reds and subsequently against the Phillies this past Friday with another strong one-run outing over 6 1/3 innings. If the trends of both pitchers holds true, this could be a genuine pitching duel and one to watch.

Game 3 probables: Ryan Dempster versus Mike Leake

Recapping the struggles of Mike Leake in the month of April is a path not worth retreading, but to say it hasn’t been pretty is putting it mildly.  It has gotten to the point where Leake not showing signs of life soon -really has to make even the most reasonable fans question his effectiveness as a fifth starter. Although none of us can know what Dusty Baker is thinking for sure, an objective observer has to think this is a make-or-break kind of start for Leake in this early season.  He has yet to win a start, going 0-3 in four starts with a 6.65 ERA after a particularly bad 3 2/3 innings allowing six runs (three earned) this past Friday versus the Astros.  Realistically, the Reds could have skipped Leake’s start altogether in this series and gone to Cueto, but the extra day of rest for the primary starters should be a positive in the upcoming stretch of limited breaks that May will soon see.  Ryan Dempster, the former Red of nearly a decade ago now, makes his return from the disabled list in this 2012 campaign sporting a miniscule 1.33 in his first three starts having given up five runs (only three earned) in his 20 1/3 innings of work.  Dempster has had solid career numbers against the Reds, with a respectable 3.88 ERA but a somewhat mediocre 7-8 record over 18 career starts as a Marlin and Cub in the past.  Interestingly, Dempster’s career numbers at GABP are not so good, sporting only a 1-8 record and a sizable 5.53 ERA (with three of those losses coming as a Red in 2003), but he had never had a sub-6.00 ERA with at least two appearances in Cincinnati until last season, when he had only a 2.08 ERA in his two GABP starts of 2011.  If any game of this series could get lopsided with some historical (and recent data) in tow, it could be this one and not in favor of the home team.  With some uncertainty how strong Ryan Dempster will be post-injury and just exactly what the Reds may get from Mike Leake, anybody could guess exactly how this game may go.

The long and the short of it: Since the Reds last played the Cubs, both teams have been moving in the right direction.  The Cubs have won 5 of their last 8 (and 4 of 6), starting from the middle game of the three-game series in Chicago, and the Reds have won 5 of their last 7 (or 7 of their last 10 from the getaway game of the Cardinals series) since that same series.  With at least one more win on this homestand versus the Cubs, the Reds will secure a winning home tour.  Momentum being more less an equalizer (as both teams are “hot”), the home team could be favored ever so slightly to take two of three.  With that in mind, it is all the more reason for Reds fans to try to help make it a “No Blue Zone” and actually ensure your home team feels like the home team.

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Tags: Baseball Bronson Arroyo Chicago Cubs Cincinnati Reds Homer Bailey Mike Leake MLB Series Preview

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