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Cubs start soft schedule stretch with Reds

CHICAGO -- The Cincinnati Reds arrive at Wrigley Field as the only National League Central team not in the division-title chase.

Even so, the fifth-place Reds (49-69) can cause some mischief as they tangle with the Cubs (61-55) on Monday night in the opener of a four-game series.

Despite losing two of three in Milwaukee over the weekend, including a 7-4 setback Sunday, Cincinnati has enjoyed some success of late with three wins in the past five games and eight victories in 14 games.

Reds manager Bryan Price has repeatedly shuffled lineups because of injuries, trades and roster moves. Cincinnati has used 25 pitchers this season, including eight rookie starters and 14 first-year hurlers.

The Reds have also had 18 different players on the disabled list at various points. That has forced them to bring up younger talent -- such as their Monday starter, Asher Wojciechowski -- for trials under fire.

"We can't create an environment that's covered in goose down where these kids can come and play and everything is going to be a beautiful wonderland," Price said recently. "It's not. It's an ugly game."

Wojciechowski (3-1, 4.23 ERA) makes his 15th appearance and seventh start. He is one of three rookies in the Reds' rotation.

In his last start Wednesday against San Diego, Wojciechowski got the win. He pitched 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball, allowing seven hits and no walks while striking out six. He is set to face the Cubs for the first time.

Chicago beat the Diamondbacks 7-2 on Sunday in Arizona as Kris Bryant went 3-for-4 with a home run. That completed a 3-3 western swing and kept the Cubs in first place by a game over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Left-hander Jose Quintana (2-2, 4.20 ERA with the Cubs) makes his sixth start with the North Siders and 24th of the season on Monday. Four of his five outings since a trade with the Chicago White Sox have been quality starts.

The Monday appearance will be his first against the Reds, one of four big league teams he has not faced.

Quintana allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings Tuesday in a 6-3 loss at San Francisco. Three of the runs came on a first-inning Buster Posey homer.

Before joining the Cubs, Quintana was 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 18 starts with the White Sox.

The Cubs, the defending division and World Series champions, are set to start a 24-game stretch against clubs currently below .500. They won't play a team at .500 or better until Sept. 8 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Despite losing catcher Willson Contreras for up to six weeks with a hamstring injury, Cubs manager Joe Maddon is optimistic about his team's prospects down the stretch.

"We have all the ingredients, we just have to play up to our abilities," he told reporters last week. "The personalities are here, the abilities are here. The skills are here. Everything is here to get it done. ... We got seven more weeks to do this. I feel good about where we are internally, so let's just see how it plays out."

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