This is the time of year where a team like the Cubs might usually look to play the role of spoiler. Then again, how much is there to spoil?
The five National League playoff spots are all but locked up by the Dodgers, Braves, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds. All that's left to determine, essentially, is who will be crowned NL Central champion and who will meet in the Wild Card game.
But there's quite a difference between sailing into the NL Division Series and having to battle it out in a one-and-done showdown. So there's still quite a bit on the line for the Reds, who will kick off a three-game series with the Cubs on Monday night at Great American Ball Park.
And Chicago can play a big role in shaping the postseason picture, as the Cubs will travel from Cincinnati straight to Pittsburgh and, at the end of the season, St. Louis.
"You never want to be a spoiler, and not that there's really any spoiling going on," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, noting that their three NL Central rivals are heading to the playoffs. "Cincinnati has put themselves in the division race as well. It'll be fun, the atmosphere in Pittsburgh as well as Cincinnati.
Cincinnati enters on a four-game winning streak, its first since Aug. 11-15.
"You're getting in that playoff-type atmosphere when you're trying to win a division, and later, it'll be the same when we get to St. Louis. It's good for everybody to see that and play in those atmospheres. It's different."
The Reds appear to have the right man heading to the mound to start this series, as right-hander Bronson Arroyo has gone 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts against the Cubs this season.
Arroyo has only given up eight hits and two walks while striking out nine over his 13 innings against Chicago, and he's coming off a solid outing Wednesday against the Cardinals. Arroyo pitched seven innings his last time out, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits with four strikeouts.
The Cubs will counter with lefty Travis Wood, who is 0-4 with a 4.15 ERA in six career starts against the Reds, including an 0-3 mark and a 3.67 ERA in four starts this season. On the bright side, Wood has compiled a 4-3 record and 2.60 ERA on the road this year, compared to a 4-8 record and 3.53 ERA at home.
Wood's last outing was an unusual one, as he mostly shut down the Marlins' right-handed hitters but yielded four runs, all on homers -- a solo shot by left-handed-hitting rookie Christian Yelich and a three-run blast by Miami pitcher Henderson Alvarez -- en route to his 11th loss.
Cubs: Castillo, Navarro look to contain Hamilton
As if it wasn't already hard enough to slow down the Reds' potent lineup, Cincinnati added another dimension to its offense by calling up the speedy Billy Hamilton. He'll present quite a challenge for catchers Welington Castillo and Dioner Navarro over the next three days. Sveum said the key for the Cubs' pitchers is to not let a runner like Hamilton distract them, thereby affecting how they attack who's at the plate.
"The more you try to stop it, the more bad pitches you throw," Sveum said. "You don't really stop that kind of speed, otherwise people would've stopped it. If you want to keep slide-stepping or if you want to keep holding or if you want to keep throwing over, the next thing you know, you give up the two-run homer or three-run homer, because you're so worried about something that's 99 percent chance going to happen anyway."
• Right-hander Daniel Bard, claimed off waivers from the Red Sox, threw a second bullpen session Sunday. The Cubs don't have a timetable to get him into a game, and he may not play for Chicago this season.
"It'd be nice to see, but it's his timetable and we'll evaluate and we'll find out how he's doing and how he's feeling," Sveum said.
Reds: Votto, Choo walking into history
Joey Votto (116 walks) and Shin-Soo Choo (97) are attempting to become the fourth set of Reds teammates with at least 100 free passes in a season. If Choo draws five more this season, they'll join Bob Bescher (102) and Johnny Bates (103) in 1911, Joe Morgan (115) and Johnny Bench (100) in '72 and Morgan (120) and Pete Rose (106) in '74.
• Outfielder Jay Bruce is looking to become the 46th player in Major League history to record at least 45 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs in one season. Entering Monday's game, Bruce had 38 doubles, 29 home runs and 93 RBIs. The only other Reds player to accomplish the feat is Frank Robinson in 1962 (51 doubles, 39 homers, 136 RBIs).
• Castillo and Navarro have combined to catch every inning for the Cubs this season, one of three pairs of Major League backstops to do so. The other two are the Angels' duo of Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger and Tampa Bay's Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton.
• The Reds entered Sunday night's series finale against the Dodgers with a 46-24 record at home.
• Zack Cozart is on a career-high 13-game hitting streak.