(SportsNetwork.com) - Exactly how many starters can the Cincinnati Reds do without, and still defeat the Chicago Cubs?
That may be the question of note on Thursday afternoon at Great American Ball Park, where the Reds host the Cubs in the finale of an extended five-game series.
The Reds have already been without first baseman Joey Votto for the entire series with a strained leg muscle, and they may have to complete the finale without center fielder Billy Hamilton and second baseman Brandon Phillips, each of whom was hurt in Wednesday's fourth game.
A sweep would be Cincinnati's first over the Cubs in a five-game series since 1931.
Hamilton has stolen seven bases and is batting .373 against the Cubs this season, but is likely on the shelf after tweaking his hamstring.
"I knew something was happening," he said. "On the last at-bat, I stepped down and I felt it pull when I started running."
Phillips, meanwhile, sprained a thumb while making a catch in the eighth inning. Post-game X-rays showed no break.
The four wins have helped move the Reds within 2 1/2 games of the lead in the National League's Central Division, and they'll try to get closer with starter Homer Bailey, who's won five of his last six home starts.
Bailey has a 2.49 earned run average in those outings and had won five straight before going eight innings in a tough-luck 1-0 loss to Milwaukee on Saturday.
He was 7-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his first 10 starts against the Cubs before dropping a 7-3 decision to them on June 24, after allowing four runs in 5 1/3 innings.
He's opposed by Chicago's Kyle Hendricks, who'll come up from Triple-A Iowa to become the latest novice with a chance to replace traded starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
Hendricks threw 102 2/3 innings at Iowa and posted a 3.59 ERA.
"The trade sends a ripple effect through the minor league system," manager Rick Renteria said. "For them, it opens opportunities. They still have to perform."
On Wednesday, Alfredo Simon was once again solid on the hill and the Reds picked up another win over the Cubs, 4-1.
Simon (12-3) recorded his NL-leading 12th victory by limiting the Cubs to one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked just two in posting his 16th quality start of the year.
Phillips went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Anthony Rizzo became the first Cubs player to hit 20 home runs before the All- Star break since Rick Monday did so in 1973, but the club still dropped its sixth straight on the heels of a promising four-game winning streak.
Dallas Beeler (0-2), in his second major league start, went five innings and was touched for four runs on five hits and four walks to take the loss.