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CIN@STL: Phillips laces a solo homer to left-center

It's been something of a sluggish beginning to the 2012 season for the 5-8 Reds and 3-10 Cubs. That's only part of the reason why both are looking for a strong start to their three-game series this weekend, starting Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Since winning their season opener against the Marlins on April 5, the Reds have started out each of their next three series with at least two losses. They lost their first two games against the Cardinals and won the third, dropped three straight against the Nationals and picked up a victory in the fourth, then once again lost their first two of three against the Cardinals.

Each time, they've needed a win on getaway day to prevent the sweep, and it doesn't take an expert to deduce that simply won't cut it in the National League Central.

"We have to get that first victory first to open a series," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

So do the Cubs. They lost their first two games of the year and won on getaway day against the Nationals, dropped three straight to the Brewers before winning the fourth game, dropped the second and third games of last weekend's series against the Cardinals then got swept by the Marlins in Miami.

Just like the Reds, the Cubs have only won the first game of a series once this year, and they'd like to improve on that over these upcoming six games at Wrigley Field.

"That first game of the homestand is very important," Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. "It's a day game, and we need to come out there and show up and be ready to play. You can't fault our effort. We're playing hard, but we need to do a couple things differently. When we don't pitch well as starters, you saw what happens. We need to improve on that. It's early. We just need to keep playing and we'll be all right."

It'll be on Cincinnati right-hander Homer Bailey (0-2, 5.40 ERA) and Cubs righty Chris Volstad (0-1, 4.91 ERA) to set the tone for the series. Volstad hasn't won a game since July 10, while Bailey is coming off his first quality start against the Nationals -- unfortunately for him, he pitched opposite Edwin Jackson's two-hitter.

The weekend forecast in Chicago doesn't look particularly favorable, especially with the Cubs leaving the retractable-roof stadium and warm climate of Miami, with highs in the mid-50s and lows in the high-30s. Just one more reason to hope for a hot start.

"It's going to be cold up there. We're going to have to grind," Reds outfielder Ryan Ludwick said. "They are playing about the same type of baseball we've been playing right now. Obviously, these guys we just played [the Cardinals] are the guys everybody is chasing. We have to take care of business. Hopefully we finish this road trip strong."

Reds: Phillips playing through left hamstring pain
• Brandon Phillips went 2-for-5 with his first homer of the season and his first two RBIs on Thursday, but he's still working through considerable pain in his sore left hamstring. The second baseman has admitted he's playing at 60 percent, and he hasn't been able to run hard up the first-base line. Phillips suffered the injury April 9 and missed five starts, then finally lobbied his way back into the lineup Sunday.

"There's always concern," Baker said. "I don't know anybody that hasn't played with a hammy or a quad or something. You could put him on the DL and you still won't know when [it will be all better]. That's the thing about baseball, once you hurt something, it usually stays hurt a long time. You don't have a week [between games] to recuperate.

"I've never been on the DL, so I gave him instruction on how to play hurt," he added. "When he was out, everybody was asking when he would come back and how come he's not back yet? Now everybody is asking if there is any fear of hurting him. You can't have it both ways."

• The Reds' franchise is one win shy of 10,000.

Cubs: Wood's status to be updated Friday
• Pitcher Kerry Wood received a cortisone shot in his right shoulder Wednesday, and the Cubs should get an update on his status, hoping he'll be available for this three-game series against the Reds. Wood hasn't pitched since Friday in St. Louis. He's appeared in four games this year, picking up a blown save and a loss.

"I think we'll all feel better when he's feeling better," said Theo Epstein, Chicago's president of baseball operations. "We'll try to nip it in the bud and get him strong. There's a long season ahead."

• Epstein has been putting in his time at high school and college baseball fields across the country, preparing for the First-Year Player Draft on June 4. The Cubs have the sixth overall pick as well as two supplemental-round selections.

"I go out every year and see at least 15 to 20 guys a year to stay current and stay on top of it," Epstein said. "It also gives me a chance to get to know our scouts, too."

Worth noting
• The Reds have won eight of their last 13 games at Wrigley Field.

• Since beating the Cardinals on April 13, the Cubs have been outscored, 34-10.

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