The Cincinnati Reds have a chance to clinch a playoff berth Thursday, but they can hardly be blamed if their minds are elsewhere.
Baker was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat Wednesday night and stayed overnight in a Chicago hospital. He underwent chest X-rays to "rule out pneumonia", and was undergoing another test Thursday to see if he could fly back to Cincinnati on Friday.
Head trainer Paul Lessard said Baker was having trouble breathing and has a history of having an irregular heartbeat. He hopes to return for Friday's series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers .
"He sounded good and they are just doing their due diligence, just running some tests," acting manager Chris Speier said. "He will be back shortly."
Cincinnati (90-59) tried to stay on task even without their manager Wednesday night, defeating Chicago 6-5 in 11 innings after failing to protect a 4-0 lead. Drew Stubbs singled in the go-ahead run in the 11th.
With the victory, the Reds lowered their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to one after the Dodgers split a doubleheader at Washington. Their magic number for a second NL Central title in three years is three.
"I am looking forward to it," second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "The only time I drink was 2010 (the last time the Reds won the NL Central), that was the first time I tasted alcohol, I'm kind of looking forward to that feeling again."
With a playoff berth all but certain, the Reds look to get Johnny Cueto (17-9, 2.92 ERA) back on track before the end of the regular season.
Cueto has lost his last three starts and has failed to make it out of the fifth inning in the last two, allowing a season high-tying six runs and nine hits over 4 1-3 innings of a 6-4 loss to Miami on Saturday."I can't explain it," Cueto said. "You have to take it easy. I feel good and have to keep moving forward. ... I felt fine. I was calm. You have to accept the good with the bad."
Despite his struggles, Cueto, who has an 8.22 ERA over his last three starts, has the chance to improve to 4-0 this season against Chicago. The right-hander has a 1.21 ERA in the previous three meetings with the Cubs (58-91), going eight innings in each of the last two.
Alfonso Soriano is 11 for 40 with four homers lifetime against Cueto and is 1 for 8 this year. He hit his 30th homer Wednesday, his most since 2007.
The Cubs, who have lost three straight, are 4-11 against the Reds this year.
Trying to avoid a sixth straight home loss to Cincinnati, Chicago hands the ball to Jason Berken (0-1, 4.50), who is making his second start for the club after being acquired off waivers from Baltimore.
Berken gave up six runs - two earned - and eight hits over four innings of a 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday in his NL debut."He was a victim of a couple of errors," manager Dale Sveum said. "It could have been a decent little outing, five innings. Could have gotten into the fifth only giving up two, but the errors cost him pitches and the ability to go five or six today."
|September 19, 2012||Aroldis Chapman||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder fatigue|
|September 19, 2012||Ryan Ludwick||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin tightness|
|September 08, 2012||Zack Cozart||Day-to-Day||Strained left oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Kristopher Negron||15-Day DL||Torn right ACL - out for season|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|August 01, 2012||Wilson Valdez||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff neck|
|September 11, 2012||Anthony Rizzo||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right shoulder|
|September 07, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Bone contusion in right elbow|
|September 07, 2012||Brett Jackson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right knee|
|July 28, 2012||Matt Garza||60-Day DL||Stress reaction, right elbow|
|July 21, 2012||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Left game - right triceps cramp|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
CHICAGO (AP) -- Dusty Baker was missing when the Cincinnati Reds became the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot. The main man in the dugout was sidelined Thursday for a second straight game after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.
"Obviously we won the last two games for him. We have him in our thoughts, but we got good news on his update," reliever Sean Marshall said after a 5-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs .
"Hopefully he'll be back with us tomorrow and when it really matters, when we clinch (the division). Hopefully we get to celebrate this weekend with him," he said.
Ace Johnny Cueto and the NL Central leaders ensured themselves of at least a wild-card spot. Cincinnati cut its magic number to two for winning the division for the second time in three years.
The Reds said Baker would remain in a Chicago hospital for an additional day so doctors could monitor his progress. The manager left Wrigley Field before Wednesday night's game and underwent another test Thursday.
Baker is expected to return to Cincinnati on Friday. Bench coach Chris Speier ran the team for a second straight game.
"He looked good. Very good. He'll be there tomorrow," said general manager Walt Jocketty, who visited Baker on Thursday morning. Jocketty said he didn't know if Baker would be able to manage when the Reds open a series at home against the Dodgers.
"" Chris Speier did an excellent job, but I think he's (Dusty) missed and we're looking forward to having him back, and more importantly, we're hoping for the best with his health," star first baseman Joey Votto said.
"I know he's excited and happy, just wish that he was here to partake in it, but he'll be back soon," Speier said.
Cueto (18-9) pitched six shutout innings as the Red completed a three-game sweep.
The Reds broke a scoreless tie by getting five straight singles off reliever Manuel Corpas (0-2) in the seventh during a five-run rally capped by Henry Rodriguez 's two-run double.
Chicago starter Jason Berken allowed just two hits in six innings against a lineup missing most of the Reds' regulars.
"I was able to get a couple of jams, great defense behind me, stayed on the same page the whole game," Berken said.
Cueto gave up five hits with four walks and broke a three-game losing streak.
"I don't think that was the best stuff he's ever had. You can tell he might be getting a little tired at the end of the year or whatever, but I've seen him with a lot better stuff," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said.
The Cubs scored in the seventh on Anthony Rizzo 's RBI single and in the eighth on Welington Castillo 's fifth homer again. Rizzo had an RBI grounder in the ninth against Alfredo Simon , who pitched the final 1 1-3 innings for his first save in as many chances.
The Reds secured their second playoff appearance in three years despite having the back of their bullpen wiped out by injuries during spring training and losing their best hitter - 2010 National League MVP Votto - for nearly two months.
Baker did some of his best managing to pull them through.
His first challenge was cobbling together a bullpen after closer Ryan Madson tore an elbow ligament in spring training, ending his season. Setup men Nick Masset and Bill Bray also got hurt before the season opened.
Baker eased Aroldis Chapman into the closer's role, and the hard-throwing left-hander set a franchise record with 27 consecutive saves.
Baker also had to juggle his batting order and lineup after Votto tore knee cartilage and was sidelined on July 16. The Reds went on their best tear of the season without their top hitter, going 32-16 and taking control of the NL Central.
There was some good fortune, too. All five starters have made it through the season without injury, a franchise record. The Reds had to use a sixth starter only because of a doubleheader.
By the time September started, the Reds were firmly in control and counting down the days until they'd clinch.
"This is the first step," Jocketty said.
""We've played very successful baseball this year, and we've competed with the best teams at a very high level," Votto added.
"We've done a lot of winning this year, but I think anything but setting the World Series as our standard, I think anything less would be selling ourselves short. ... That's our goal."
NOTES: Cueto's two strikeouts gave him a career-best 159. ... Reds 2B Rodriguez and CF Denis Phipps made their first career starts and SS Didi Gregorius started for just the fourth time. ... The Cubs stay home to play the wild card-contending Cardinals with Chris Carpenter (0-0) set to make his season debut against Chris Volstad (3-10). ... The Reds will start Bronson Arroyo (12-8) at home against the Dodgers' Joe Blanton (9-13) on Friday night. ... Berken, picked up on waivers from Baltimore earlier this month, struck out four batters in one inning - the fifth Cubs pitcher to ever do that - when Ryan Hanigan reached on a third strike wild pitch in the second.
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay contributed to this report.