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Rising Chicago Cubs aim to cut into Cincinnati Reds' NL Central lead

Though the Cubs' eight-game winning streak ended with Sunday's 3-0 loss to St. Louis, they've won eight of their last 10, are 15-7 since July 4, and are four games behind Cincinnati in the Central

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Rookie left-hander Andrew Abbott is a big reason the Cincinnati Reds sit atop the National League Central.

However, a July surge has the Chicago Cubs within striking distance of the division lead, even amid All-Star right-hander Marcus Stroman's recent struggles.

Riding a 16-inning scoreless stretch, Abbott aims for a third straight victory when the Reds visit Stroman and Cubs on Monday night in the opener of a four-game series.

Cincinnati is a half-game ahead of Milwaukee, and Abbott (6-2, 1.90 ERA) continues to shine since making his major league debut on June 5. The left-hander has endured one rough outing in 10 starts, allowing six runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Brewers on July 7.

However, he's yielded two runs and 11 hits over 20 innings to go 2-1 in three starts since.

Abbott allowed a run in the fourth inning against the Brewers on July 15, then threw two more scoreless innings in that contest. He followed by tossing eight innings without a run versus San Francisco and blanked Milwaukee through six of last Tuesday's 4-3 victory, where he recorded a season-high 113 pitches.

"It always feels good when they trust you enough to continue to throw after a certain number of pitches," said Abbott, who owns an impressive 0.96 WHIP.

"I think it's just earned over time."

Abbott and the Reds should feel confident after taking two of three at the Los Angeles Dodgers. They've also won eight of their last 11 overall. However, they face a potentially stiff challenge in this now-important set with Chicago.

Though the Cubs' eight-game winning streak ended with Sunday's 3-0 loss to St. Louis, they've won eight of their last 10, are 15-7 since July 4 and are four games behind Cincinnati in the Central. Chicago is not playing like the group that was outscored 25-10 while being swept by Cincinnati in a three-game home set from May 26-28.

"If we continue to go out and do what we're doing -- play good baseball and rack up wins -- then good things are going to happen," Cubs manager David Ross said. "That's all we need to know."

The Cubs have totaled 44 runs while winning five of their last six home games. However, Stroman (10-7, 3.51) is 1-3 with an 8.00 ERA in his last six starts after going 9-4 with a 2.28 ERA in his first 16. The right-hander allowed seven runs and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. However, the Cubs rallied for a 10-7 win.

"I've been just kind of struggling a little bit mechanically, timing, tempo, rhythm," said Stroman, a subject of trade rumors, though perhaps no longer with Chicago in the postseason hunt.

Stroman hasn't faced the Reds in 2023 but is 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA in six career starts against them. Chicago gets its first look at another exciting rookie, Elly De La Cruz, who homered for one of his four hits during Sunday's 9-0 rout of the Dodgers.

Fellow Reds rookie Matt McLain also homered Sunday and is batting .370 with four homers in his last 13 games. However, the Cubs won't see injured Cincinnati infielder Jonathan India (foot) after he was placed on the injured list on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Chicago's Cody Bellinger, no longer on the trade market, is hitting .435 with five homers and 16 RBIs in his last 16 home games. He's 4-for-9 with a homer and four RBIs versus Cincinnati in 2023.

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Copyright AP - Associated Press
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