Like it or not, the Chicago Cubs turn the calendar from September to October when they continue a three-game series against the visiting Cincinnati Reds on Saturday afternoon.
The Cubs (71-86) capped their first winning month of the season with a 6-1 victory over the Reds in the series opener onFriday. Nico Hoerner drove in three runs and Adrian Sampson worked seven one-run innings to lead the way.
The win gave Chicago a 15-11 mark in September, a month they didn't start particularly well, taking seven losses in nine games, before finishing with a 13-4 flourish.
The flurry included three-game sweeps of the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. The Cubs held the opposition to two runs or fewer in nine of past the 17 games, including the last four in a row.
Yan Gomes caught the latest gem, a combined four-hitter from Sampson and relievers Erich Uelmen and Rowan Wick, and chipped in with a pair of hits, including an RBI double.
Enjoying the day off was Willson Contreras, who caught all three games of the Phillies sweep to start the week, going 2-for-12 with a double. The three-time All-Star has made it clear: Despite missing 23 games with a sprained left ankle leading into the Philadelphia series, he wants to be in the lineup as often as possible and help the club finish strong.
"I talked to the trainers and told them that I want to work as much as I can to get through my injury and then come back and play at least the last part of the season," he said of his surprisingly speedy recovery. "It was important to be able to come back for the team and have fun with them."
Another veteran happy to work again is Chicago's projected Saturday starter, left-hander Drew Smyly (7-8, 3.48 ERA), who hasn't pitched since Sept. 14 because of shoulder fatigue.
The first-year Cub has faced the Reds twice this season, including the Field of Dreams game on Aug. 11. He went 2-0 in those contests, limiting Cincinnati to three runs and eight hits in 10 2/3 innings.
Smyly, 33, has never lost to the Reds in his career, going 5-0 with a 2.91 ERA in seven games, including six starts.
The Reds are expected to counter with left-hander Nick Lodolo (4-7, 3.75 ERA), who has a chance in his last scheduled outing to tie for the team lead in wins among starters.
Reliever Alexis Diaz leads Cincinnati (60-97) with six wins, while starters Tyler Mahle and Graham Ashcraft have five. Ashcraft failed to add to his total in Friday's series opener, as he was bombed for six runs (five earned) in 2 2/3 innings.
Lodolo is one of six Reds pitchers who have four wins. He was not rewarded for six innings of one-run pitching in his last outing on Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers, a game the Reds won 2-1 with a tie-breaking run in the eighth.
The rookie lost a 4-2 decision to Smyly and the Cubs in the Field of Dreams game in his only previous outing against Chicago. He gave up four runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.
The Reds will take the field having lost seven of eight, and they were limited to a total of 16 runs over that stretch.
"It's hard right now, scoring runs and hitting with guys in scoring position, but hitting goes back and forth," said Kyle Farmer, who went 0-for-4 in the series opener. "You've got to ride the wave."
--Field Level Media