That sweep by Pittsburgh doesn’t look so bad now, does it?
The Cincinnati Reds stumbled out of the gate for the proverbial “second half” of the 2018 baseball season, being outscored by a combined 27-5 while dropping three straight at home to a Pirates team on the way to matching its longest winning streak since 1965.
“It’s disappointing,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said after the Pirates completed the convincing sweep. “It’s a long season – 162 games. This is kind of the ebb and flow of it. You want to minimize it as much as possible on the downside.”
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That was the ebb. The Reds were able to turn it into a flow over the remaining seven games of the season’s longest home stand. They took two out of three from the struggling St. Louis Cardinals – the only loss was in 11 innings – before bouncing back from a 9-4 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday to win the remaining three games of the four-game weekend series and outscore the Phillies 16-6, capping the run with a 4-0 win on Sunday over the National League East Division leaders.
“Give some credit to that really good, young, hungry baseball team over there and the job Jim Riggleman is doing as a leader,” first-year Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said after Sunday’s game.
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Kapler’s comments echoed those uttered by Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon more than a month earlier while the Reds were completing a giddy four-game sweep of the NL Central Division leaders.
“It’s called baseball,” Maddon said, seeking to derail suggestions that the Cubs failed. “It’s under the category of baseball, but while you’re saying that, don’t denigrate Cincinnati. This is an improved ball club and their pitching is way improved.”
While Cincinnati displayed timely hitting and crisp defense over the weekend against the Phillies, the key to the modest three-game winning streak was a bullpen that literally went overnight from leaky to lockdown. Reds relief pitchers gave up a season-high five home runs on Thursday. They followed over the next three games by logging 10.2 innings in which they allowed just one unearned run.
“I certainly don’t want to be responsible for overdoing it and hurting somebody, but I do feel that, the last several years, we’ve lowered the bar so much as to what we expect from players,” he said. “They can give us more than what we’ve been asking of them in the last several years.”
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Riggleman will take starts such as that turned in Sunday by Luis Castillo, who tossed a season-high seven innings and racked up nine strikeouts. Veteran Matt Harvey wasn’t as dominant on Saturday, but allowing just two runs in five innings opened the door for Cincinnati’s improbable sixth-inning rally.
That start might have been the last of what could be a brief Cincinnati stay for Harvey, acquired on May 8 from the Mets for catcher Devin Mesoraco. The pending free agent has been considered to be non-waiver trade deadline bait almost from the day he showed up in Cincinnati. Tuesday is the deadline.
Harvey’s place in the rotation – which would revert back to five pitchers from the six it’s been for the past couple of weeks – would most likely be filled by Homer Bailey, who is scheduled to make his second start since coming off the disabled list on Tuesday as the Reds open a nine-game road trip with the first of two inter-league games in Detroit.