Reds offense skidding at wrong time
CINCINNATI – There was a delayed reaction from the crowd of 40,707 at Great American Ball Park Saturday afternoon when Brandon Phillips’ ground ball found its way through a hole in between Neil Walker and Justin Morneau and into right field. It was as if the crowd didn’t know how to react for a second.
Phillips’ single had driven in Shin-Soo Choo with the first run of the game for the Reds. It came with one out, his team trailing 2-0, and runners on first-and-third in the third inning. It’s hard to find fault for the delay. It’s not like the Reds have had much success in these kinds of situations lately. Certainly not this week.
Jay Bruce followed Phillips’ hit with a two-run double that just missed being a three-run home run high off of the left field wall. That gave the Reds a 3-2 lead, something they hadn’t experience in 29 innings.
The experience didn’t last long as Pittsburgh scored runs in four of its next six at-bats to blow by the Reds 8-3 and clinch home field advantage for Tuesday’s National League Wild Card game between the two teams.
There are a lot of positives about the Reds’ offense but this week hasn’t been one of them. That’s not a good sign going into the postseason.
They’ve lost four straight since beating the New York Mets 3-2 in 10 innings on Monday night. That was the last time they had a lead until Bruce’s double. They’ve scored nine runs this homestand, and just six during the current four-game losing streak.
The Reds have scored the third-most runs in the National League. Their on-base percentage as a team is second only to St. Louis’ in the NL and they’ve had more plate appearances than every team in the NL except Arizona. Their slugging percentage, however, is only ninth in the NL, and no team in the NL has left as many runners on base as the Reds have. The 11 runners they left stranded Saturday brought their season total to 1187 with Sunday’s regular season finale remaining.
They have just three hits in their last 29 at-bats with runners in scoring position, with Phillips and Bruce getting two of those hits Saturday.
Twice the Reds left the bases loaded on Saturday, in the first and fifth innings when the game was still very much undecided.
“If we could’ve solved it, we would’ve solved it a long time ago,” said manager Dusty Baker. “It was a game of inches that went their way and not our way.”
Baker referenced a diving stop Pittsburgh shortstop Clint Barmes made on a Ryan Ludwick ground ball that appeared headed to center field in the first inning. Barmes was able to flip the ball to second baseman Neil Walker in time to get Shin-Soo Choo, who had led off the inning with a single, for a force out. Todd Frazier missed a double down the left field line by a matter of inches in the inning. Instead, he flew out to left field for the final out of the inning.
In the fifth inning, Zack Cozart struck out against reliever Vin Mazzaro with the bases loaded and one out. Ryan Hanigan hit a liner to right-center field but Andrew McCutchen tracked it down to preserve what was then a 6-3 Pittsburgh lead.
The Reds are maintaining the lack of offense is a cyclical matter.
“I take each at-bat as its own, and anytime we score is good,” said Bruce. “No matter who can do it, it’s good for our guys to come through. It’s baseball and that’s how it goes, but you look to take advantage of the opportunities and that time I was able to do it.”
Brandon Phillips left the game in the fifth inning after fouling a ball off his left shin. A welt began growing immediately. Phillips got back in the batter’s box and singled but was replaced by pinch-runner Cesar Izturis. Phillips won’t play in Sunday’s finale but is hopeful of playing Tuesday.
The Reds will face left-hander Francisco Liriano on Tuesday. They’ve won all four games that Liriano has started against them this season, although he’s allowed them more than two runs in just one of those starts.
“We know he’s a tough competitor, a tough guy for us to face and we need to play well against him,” said first baseman Joey Votto. “I think probably knowing that we have had some success against him (helps) but past success doesn’t predict future success. If he’s out there on the mound we’re just going to do our very best to bring baseball back to Cincinnati for the rest of the postseason.”
Votto and Choo have both reached base more than 300 times this season, the only pair of teammates to do so in the same season for the Reds. Choo was on three times Saturday, scoring once, while Votto was on base four times with a run scored. Like Bruce, neither of them was sounding any alarms for Tuesday.
“Pittsburgh’s pitching, it’s one of the best bullpens in the league,” said Choo. “We’ll be ready for Tuesday. Baseball, there’s a lot of things that can happen. Liriano he’s a good pitcher, especially at home. His worse ERA is away but that’s why baseball is fun. You never know. Maybe Liriano will give a lot of runs that day, you don’t know. You just take care of yourself tomorrow, the last game, take care of Monday and be ready on Tuesday.”