Redbirds feasting on scoring chances

CINCINNATI – Mike Leake was one out away from getting out of a precarious predicament in the fourth inning Friday night in the opener of a three-game series against NL Central leading St. Louis. The Cardinals had runners on first and third but Leake struck out fan not-so-favorite Yadier Molina for a second out.

While hardly secure, Leake had to be breathing a little easier as David Freese came to the plate.

Three consecutive singles later and the Reds were behind 3-0 and on their way to a 9-2 defeat that dropped them four games behind the Cardinals in the standings.

It’s the first week of June, still more than three months away from any playoff spots being determined, but if there is one difference that stands out between the Reds and Cardinals at this point it’s how they hit in such situations. The Cardinals have been ridiculously good at it so far this season, while the Reds have struggled.

St. Louis came into the game leading the Major Leagues with a team batting average of .339 with runners in scoring position, a number that dips only slightly to .325 when the Cardinals have two outs. Their 214 RBI with RISP were the best in the NL, while their 106 RBI with two outs led the Majors.

The Reds are hitting a respectable .276 with runners in scoring position but drop to .197 with two outs. While they had just 17 fewer RBI than St. Louis overall when hitting with RISP, the Reds were 39 runners shy of the Cardinals’ total with two outs.

Six of St. Louis’ runs came in two-out situations and most of the damage was done by its bottom half of the lineup. Freese, centerfielder John Jay and shortstop Pete Kozma – the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 – went 6-for-12 and drove in seven runs. Overall, the Cardinals were 8-of-19 with RISP, giving them 180 hits with RISP this season. That leads the Major Leagues.

Dusty Baker has lamented the numerous scoring chances the Reds have squandered this season, failing to tack on runs. It’s a scenario that came back to bite them last Sunday in Pittsburgh as well as this past Tuesday against Colorado.

That wasn’t the case Friday against St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright. He kept the Reds off the board on just two hits and a walk until the sixth inning when Jay Bruce singled home Zack Cozart with two outs to make it a 7-1 game.
Still, the Reds ended the game with just two hits in nine chances with runners at second and/or third base.

“I’d like find out what their secret is. I’d bottle it,” said Baker. “They can just hit. You can call it whatever you want to call it but they can just hit.”

In Leake’s previous 30 innings prior to the fateful fourth he had allowed 25 hits and just one earned run, walking four while striking out 24 batters.

Leake said the Reds are well aware of how well St. Louis has been hitting in the clutch this season. Allen Craig had a 12-pitch at-bat before singling in the fourth inning to send Matt Holliday to third base. His approach didn’t change against Freese after getting Molina swinging. Freese just got the better of him. He ended up allowing three runs on five hits in that inning.

“They’ve got a great lineup and you can’t take a break against any of them,” said Leake. “Every inning is still three outs, not two, so you’ve got to keep going. I never let up. After I got that second out I didn’t let up. I still made decent pitches. They probably could have been a few inches lower than they were but they were still on the corners.
“They’re good hitters, they’re smart.”

It’s something the Reds are going to have to get better at as the season moves on.