All the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds will know in the final stretch of the season is each other.
Entering a six-game, home-and-home series, the Cubs will aim for their fifth straight victory while trying to hand the visiting Reds a fourth consecutive loss on Friday.
Chicago (70-86) and Cincinnati (60-96) want to finish disappointing seasons on strong notes. The Cubs, 7-6 in the season series, will host three this weekend before heading to Cincinnati for the final three.
The Cubs dealt a severe blow to the visiting Philadelphia Phillies' postseason hopes with a three-game sweep this week. Chicago has won eight of its past nine and is 12-4 since Sept. 12.
"You've got to find things that motivate you late in the season," Chicago All-Star Ian Happ told Marquee Sports Network.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is mired in a 4-16 stretch and was swept in a three-game series at Pittsburgh to start the week. The Reds are trying to avoid the second 100-loss season in the storied franchise's history. Cincinnati went 61-101 in 1982.
"Everybody is grinding until the end, until that last out is made for the end of the season," Reds outfielder Jake Fraley said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"We're going to continue to do that. It has been a tough year for a lot of us, but I think there are also a lot of things that, us as a team have gone through that is going to really, really play into these last couple of games."
Fraley, who clubbed a tying homer in the ninth inning Wednesday during the Reds' 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Pirates, is 8-for-19 (.421) with two doubles and a home run against Chicago this season. He is 4-for-5 with a double against scheduled Cubs starter Adrian Sampson (3-5, 3.23 ERA), who is 2-1 with a sparkling 1.55 ERA in five September starts.
Sampson allowed a solo homer and three other hits over six innings in an 8-3 victory at Pittsburgh on Sunday. The right-hander continues to make his case for a roster spot, or perhaps rotation spot, with the Cubs in 2023.
"He fits in that bucket of a guy who can do a lot of different things," Chicago pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said of Sampson, who is 3-5 with a 3.44 ERA in a career-high 17 starts this season.
Sampson has allowed three runs and 11 hits over 10 innings covering two starts against the Reds this year. Cincinnati's Kyle Farmer and Jonathan India are a combined 5-for-9 against him.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati's Graham Ashcraft (5-4, 4.18 ERA) is set to make his second start after missing more than a month due to biceps soreness.
The rookie right-hander began with three scoreless innings but allowed four runs in his fourth and final frame during a 10-2 loss against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday. Ashcraft yielded eight hits in that contest.
He has given up 11 runs, 13 hits and five walks over 8 2/3 innings while going 0-2 against the Cubs in 2022. Ashcraft yielded a grand slam to Patrick Wisdom during Chicago's 15-7 home win on June 30.
The Cubs' Franmil Reyes also went deep vs. Ashcraft, while Reyes, Happ, Wisdom, P.J. Higgins and Christopher Morel are a combined 10-for-16 against him.
Wisdom is 7-for-18 (.389) with three homers and eight RBIs in his past four games vs. Cincinnati.
--Field Level Media