Cincinnati Reds: Postseason ambitions dented after historic clawing by Cubs

I am prone to exaggeration, but the recent Reds vs. Cubs series was the most horrific series loss in my lifetime. My frustration with the division-leading Reds opting against strengthening at the deadline was compounded by the Chicago Cubs treating the four-game series as batting practice.

GAME 1: Cincinnati Reds 6-5 Chicago Cubs

Pre-deadline, the Reds took the series over the Dodgers to enter the first game against division rivals, Chicago Cubs, with high spirits. They edged the opener, with Alexis Diaz securing his 32nd save of the season.

No one could have expected what the next three days had in store.

GAME 2 Cincinnati Reds 9-20 Chicago Cubs

A couple of first-inning defensive misplays gifted Chicago base runners for Cody Bellinger and then Dansby Swanson (with a decent homer to right centre) to drive in. Suddenly the Reds were down 0-5… and it only got worse.

Although the Reds scored twice in the second inning, Toby Bellringer went deep to make it 7-2 before Mike Tauchman (batting for the third time in the game) hit a three-run homer in the third inning to take the score to double-digits.

Ben Lively, Reds’ starter, whose 3.76 ERA flattered his 2023 season, was left out there for the fourth inning, and Swanson swatted his second long ball of the day to notch his fifth RBI.

The Reds’ bullpen put up a couple of scoreless innings, most notably by deadline-signing Sam Moll with three strikeouts over 1 1/3 innings, although, let’s be honest, the Cubs were just looking to connect with bombs.

The Cubs added seven more runs in innings seven and eight, thanks in part to the Reds employing catcher Luke Maile as a relief pitcher.

Four runs in the ninth for the Reds were scant consolation in an embarrassing evening. At least the teams start 0-0 tomorrow.

GAME 3: Cincinnati Reds 6-16 Chicago Cubs

In true wannabe-champions style, the Reds started the game with no memory of yesterday’s humiliation and took an immediate 3-0 lead, thanks to home runs from Spencer Steer and Joey Votto.

Votto’s Twitter profile reads “I use “oof” when I text.” and I suspect he went “oof” when the Cubs woke up and scored 16 runs.

Brandon Williamson, the pitching prospect acquired in one of the Reds’ many salary-dump deals of 2022, had a 4.48 ERA coming into the game. He only allowed four hits but conceded five earned runs, including a solo homer to Dansby Swanson. This was the fourth time Swanson had gone yard in three days against the Reds.

The Reds’ bullpen took over and gave up homers for fun – including two in successive innings to Ian Happ – before Cincinnati once again turned to catcher Luke Maile for the final inning.

The 32-year-old backup catcher allowed another two home runs (taking his tally to four homers, seven earned runs) for the series.

Even Votto hitting his 10th and 11th homers in only his 34th game of his injured-plagued season, could not deflect from the second straight humbling defeat to the Cubs.

At least tomorrow will start 0-0… again.

GAME 4: Cincinnati Reds 3-5 Chicago Cubs

In the trade deadline wishlist article, I lamented that the Reds won’t spend on pitching – their highest-paid pitcher is Luke Weaver on $2 million – and the final three of the rotation are projected to combine for over 5.00 ERA for the rest of the season. Games one and two proved this point, so it was up to the aforementioned Weaver to disprove it.

Rookie sensation Elly De La Cruz gave the Reds the best possible start with a first-pitch home run off Jameson Taillon. Unfortunately, the Cubs’ run-machine chased Weaver out of the game after the third inning. The 29-year-old pitcher now has a 6.98 ERA for the season.

The Reds’ bullpen did a decent job of restricting Chicago to only one additional run, but the damage was already done.

Apart from the disappointment of a humiliating series defeat that saw the Reds concede 46 runs – tied for their most in a four-game series since 1961 – it felt like a significant shift in the division dynamic.

Against early-July speculation, Chicago held onto Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman, and added Washington Nationals’ third baseman Jeimer Candelario. If the Candelario acquisition felt underwhelming for Cubs fans, his six runs in three games against the Reds suggest it was inspired.

Despite still leading the division, the Reds only have 16% odds of winning the NL Central and less than 30% to reach the postseason. So, it probably made sense for ownership not to invest, but the frustration of watching the Reds blow this incredible first half of the season will rival all of the other frustrations I have endured following Cincinnati.

Featured image of Luke Weaver by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Article by @GavTramps. Want to share your baseball opinions with a Bat Flips & Nerds audience of 10,000+? Click on the “Write for us” link above.

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