Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds
- The Reds took two of three games at Wrigley Field earlier this month, improving to 51-21 in the series since 2010. The 51 victories are one shy of the most by any National League team in a given series over that span (Atlanta, 52-24 vs. Miami).
- The Cubs snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-0 victory at Milwaukee on Sunday. It was Chicago's first shutout victory of 2014, after getting blanked four times themselves this season.
- The Reds ended a 10-game road trip on a sour note, losing three games at Atlanta to finish 5-5 on the trip. Cincinnati mustered just one run on seven hits over the past two games.
- Emilio Bonifacio went 6-for-12 against the Reds in their previous series this year, improving his career average versus Cincinnati to .364, his highest against any opponent. Only Lyle Overbay (.372) boasts a higher career mark versus the Reds (minimum 75 PA).
- Jeff Samardzija is winless (0-2) despite allowing two earned runs or fewer and working at least seven innings in each of his first five starts. He's the only starter in the last 100 years (since 1914) to begin any season in such a fashion.
- Alfredo Simon has begun the season even better than Samardzija (1.53), posting a 1.30 ERA through his first four starts. Simon's ERA is the fourth-lowest mark in the majors to date (minimum 1.0 IP per team game).
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By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- The Cincinnati Reds are thrilled with what they've seen from Alfredo Simon, who has been outstanding while filling in for the injured Mat Latos.
Jeff Samardzija has been nearly as good for the Chicago Cubs, but he doesn't have much to show for it.
In a rematch of an earlier showdown, Simon takes the hill opposite Samardzija as the Reds open a three-game home set against the Cubs on Monday night.
Simon (3-1, 1.30 ERA) has given Cincinnati a huge lift, surrendering two runs or fewer in each of his first four outings while holding opponents to a .172 average. The right-hander is looking to win a third consecutive start after allowing two runs and four hits over 6 2-3 innings in Wednesday's 5-2 victory at Pittsburgh.
"He's been terrific," manager Bryan Price said. "He's been an extremely versatile pitcher for us the last two-plus seasons. He's always been a talented guy, but he's really found himself and made himself into a very good-looking starting pitcher."
Simon also shined in a 4-1 win at Wrigley Field on April 18, allowing one unearned run over six-plus innings opposite Samardzija.
"We just weren't able to do a whole lot offensively," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said afterward.
Samardzija (0-2, 1.53), who has yet to yield more than two earned runs this season, can't seem to catch a break. The right-hander has struck out 27 and walked just nine over five starts spanning 35 1-3 innings while receiving a combined nine runs of support.
Samardzija was in line for the victory before the Cubs (8-16) allowed five runs in the ninth inning in Wednesday's 7-5 loss to Arizona. He gave up two runs and seven hits in 7 1-3 innings.
"I'm going out and doing my job. As a starting pitcher, you know when you're pitching every fifth day and you come out - you have to have a short memory," Samardzija told MLB's official website. "You start carrying over start to start, that's when it starts to snowball on you. You keep doing your work and competing for the team and hope for the best."
Samardzija has received an average of 2.60 runs of support during an 11-start winless stretch dating to last year.
"He's doing what he's supposed to do," catcher Welington Castillo said. "He's giving us a chance. We just have to score a couple runs for him. I think he's been throwing the ball really good. ... He wants to compete, he wants to win. He wants the ball in every situation."
Samardzija surrendered three runs - one earned - and struck out seven in as many innings against the Reds earlier this month, dropping to 0-4 with a 4.75 ERA in his last seven starts in the series.
The Reds (11-14) just suffered a three-game sweep at Atlanta to conclude a 5-5 road trip, falling 1-0 in 10 innings on Sunday. Cincinnati also lost 4-1 on Saturday and is 7 for 61 (.115) in its last two games.
"It was tough for us," Price said. "It was another one-run game that we weren't able to pull out. You want to win the games that are there."
The Cubs had dropped four in a row before posting their first shutout in Sunday's 4-0 win at Milwaukee. Starlin Castro went 3 for 4 with a pair of solo homers and Jason Hammel pitched into the eighth inning.
Despite the victory, the Cubs dropped the three-game set to extend their string of winless series to 13. Chicago's last series win came at Cincinnati from Sept. 9-11.
However, the Reds are 25-7 against the Cubs dating to August 2012 after taking two of three in this season's first series.
Updated April 27, 2014