Reds limp into Wrigley Field looking for Alexis Diaz to save the day vs. the Cubs

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Alexis Diaz
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Alexis Diaz / Kirk Irwin/GettyImages
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Every year as the calendar turns to the final week of September, baseball fans yearn for the opportunity to have their club playing for something. However, this isn't exactly what fans of the Cincinnati Reds had in mind.

Reds Country, I was hoping to avoid this subject, but, unfortunately, after dropping seven in a row in September to the last place Pittsburgh Pirates, a 100-loss campaign, for what would be only the second time in franchise history, is staring the Redlegs square in the face.

Needless to say, it's been a horrid final full month of the 2022 season for Cincinnati. The Reds (60-96) are 9-18 in September and have been a dismal 20-35 since August 1st. With six games remaining on the schedule, the Reds must go at least 3-3 to avoid joining the 1982 Reds as the worst club in the franchise's long history.

The Reds limp to the finish line looking to avoid 100 losses.

Is their reason for hope? Possibly. The Reds are 3-3 at the Friendly Confines this season and are 6-7 overall versus the Cubbies this season. However, like the fans of the fictional AFC Richmond club on the Apple TV show "Ted Lasso" like to say, "it's the hope that kills ya."

Let it be known that Chicago fans have little reason to be smirking. The Chicago Cubs (70-86) are in danger of posting consecutive 90-loss seasons for the first time since a three-year stretch between the 2011-2013 seasons.

After finishing first or second in the National League Central from 2016 through 2018, this will be the third time in four years the North Siders have finished in third place or lower in the division.

Nevertheless, credit must be given to the Cubbie faithful. Entering the final weekend of the season, the Cubs rank sixth among the 15 National League clubs in attendance, with more than 2.5 million fans visiting Wrigley Field.

Previewing the pitching matchups: Reds vs. Cubs

Cincinnati Reds starter Graham Ashcraft vs. Chicago Cubs starter Adrian Sampson

Rookie Graham Ashcraft (5-4 4.18 ERA) takes the mound in this afternoon's opener opposing Adrian Sampson (3-5 3.23 ERA) of the Cubs. This start can only go better than Ashcraft's previous two outings versus Chicago.

The Reds' right-hander has been rocked for 10 earned runs and 13 hits in just 8.2 innings in a pair of appearances against the North Siders. A trio of Cubs hitters have been especially difficult to retire for the Alabama native. Ian Happ, Franmil Reyes, and Patrick Wisdom are a combined 6- for-12 with two round-trippers when facing Ashcraft.

Even though he's winless in four career starts against the Reds, Adrian Sampson has had no problems retiring Redlegs not named Jake Fraley. The Reds outfielder is 4-for-5 with a double against the 30-year-old right-hander.

Cincinnati Reds starter Nick Lodolo vs. Chicago Cubs starter TBD

Fellow rookie Nick Lodolo (4-7 3.75 ERA) toes the rubber Saturday for the Cincinnati Reds. Chicago manager David Ross has yet to announce his starter for the afternoon tilt. He may only have one victory to show for it, but the Cincinnati southpaw has been excellent in his last seven starts.

Tossing 43.2 frames, Lodolo has fanned 54 and hasn't allowed more than three runs in six consecutive outings while compiling a solid 3.30 ERA over that time span. To say the 24-year-old left-hander has dominated lefties is an understatement. Left-handed hitters are slashing an anemic .109/.226/.130 in 53 plate appearances.

Cincinnati Reds starter Chase Anderson vs. Chicago Cubs starter Marcus Stroman

Sunday's matinee series finale will feature Chase Anderson (2-3 4.70 ERA) battling Marcus Stroman (5-7 3.66 ERA) for the Cubs. Reds manager David Bell may keep Anderson on a short leash, but there's no denying the right-hander's effectiveness in his last four starts.

In 18 innings of work, Anderson has surrendered just nine hits and five runs while recording 17 punch outs. How good was the 34-year-old Texan the last time he defeated the Cubs? How about seven shutout frames of one-hit baseball good in a June 12, 2018 start as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

I'm not sure what the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed Marcus Stroman to a two-year $50M deal, but it's safe to say it's more than what they've received from the right-hander. The former All-Star has posted his lowest ERA+ (112) since the 2018 season, and his 1.1 HR/9 rate is the second highest mark of his eight-year career.

Reliever Alexis Diaz gives the Reds hope heading into 2023.

He's not going to be Cincinnati's second consecutive Rookie of the Year Award winner, but there's no denying the fantastic debut campaign Alexis Diaz has turned in. In a season where bright spots have been few and far between, the 26-year-old Puerto Rican has been special.

Making 57 appearances out of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, Diaz has whiffed 81 in only 61.1 innings and compiled a sensational 0.96 WHIP. Additionally, he's posted a 1.76 ERA, and his 3.0 bWAR leads all Redlegs on the active roster.

As good as he's been in his rookie season, the right-hander has been virtually un-hittable in his last 30 trips to the mound. Working 31.1 frames, he's allowed just 14 hits and compiled a remarkable 45 punch outs.

When you're on the brink of losing 100 games, there are obviously going to be many question marks entering the following season. Thankfully, the closer role is one that general manager Nick Krall won't have to address this winter. A healthy Tejay Antone and Lucas Sims paired with Alexis Diaz in the Cincinnati bullpen will certainly lower the blood pressure of everyone in Reds Country.

Prediction: Reds get just one victory in the Windy City

When you drop seven in a row to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a month, it's difficult to be confident about anything. However, I am confident the Reds will return to the Queen City with one victory during their final road trip of the season.

Look for the Cubbies to take two of three from the Redlegs before both teams head to Great American Ball Park to open a season-ending three-game set on Monday.