While the 2018 season has been, at best, disappointing for the Reds, it has been disastrous when they were matched against their National League Central Division partners.
The Reds went into this weekend’s four-game series against the Chicago Cubs 8-23 against Central Division teams and 20-22 against the rest of their schedule.
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“Our players look at it like a challenge and a hurdle we have to overcome,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said before Thursday’s series-opener. “We’ve got to start winning some of these games in our division against the Cubs and Cardinals. Milwaukee’s playing very good baseball. The Pirates we’ve held our own against, but we’ve got to step it up against these better Cubs.”
Cincinnati has gotten off to a good start on that quest. After coming from behind on Jesse Winker’s first career grand slam on the way to a 6-2 win on Thursday, the Reds got a go-ahead two-run home run from Eugenio Suarez in the fifth inning, helping them to a 6-3 win before a crowd of 25,885 at Great American Ball Park on Friday.
Billy Hamilton, Joey Votto, Adam Duvall and Alex Blandino also drove in runs to help Luis Castillo snap a four-start losing streak and earn his first win since May 24. Four Cincinnati pitchers limited Chicago to four hits as the Reds earned back-to-back wins over Chicago for the first time since June 30-July 1 of last season. They extended their current winning streak to five games, their longest since winning a season-high six straight from May 8 through May 13.
“We’re playing really good baseball right now,” Suarz said. “When you play like that, good things can happen.”
Cincinnati’s three relievers – Kyle Crockett, David Hernandez and Raisel Iglesias – teamed up to retire the last 10 Cubs batters.
“That was one of our cleaner ballgames of the season,” Riggleman said. “We played a good ballgame – offensively, defensively, ran the bases well, timely hitting.”
Castillo (5-8) faced one batter over the minimum through three hitless innings before the Cubs reached him for three runs with two outs in the fourth. Javier Baez drove in Ben Zobrist from third with a squeeze bunt, and Middletown-native Kyle Schwarber smacked Castillo’s next pitch into the visitors’ bullpen in left-center field for his team-leading 15thhomer of the season and third in four games.
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The homer was the eighth allowed by Castillo in his last six games and 18thof the season. He went into the game having given up a National League-leading 17 home runs.
The Cubs got runners to first and second with two outs in the sixth, but the left-handed Crockett – promoted from Triple-A Louisville before Thursday’s game – came in to get Schwarber looking to end the inning. Hernandez posted three strikeouts in two perfect relief innings, setting up Raisel Iglesias’s 12thsave in 14 opportunities.
“Castillo did a nice job,” Riggleman said. “In the sixth, we wanted nothing more with Schwarber than to keep him in the ballpark. Crockett was able to come in and strike him out, and that might be as good a two innings from Hernandez this season.”
“We’re a family,” Castillo said of the rejuvenated pitching staff, which has allowed a combined 4.23 earned-run average in June after figures of 5.32 in April and 4.64 in May. “Starters, relievers, we’re all a family. When somebody does good, we’re happy for him. When somebody isn’t as good, we have his back.”
Jose Peraza, who has reached base at least once in 22 consecutive games, started the three-run fifth with a single and stolen base, setting up Votto’s one-out RBI single. Suarez, who extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games with a first-inning single, followed with a two-run shot to center field, his 16thhomer of the season.
“I put a good swing on a changeup,” Suarez said. “In my first at bat, he threw me a changeup and I rolled it over to the shortstop. After that, I said, ‘I have to be ready for anything.’”
Peraza tied Jesse Winker for Cincinnati’s longest on-base streak of the season. He also stole second base three times, his third one in the ninth setting up Blandino’s RBI single.
The bottom of the Reds order produced a 1-0 lead in the second against Cubs’ starter Jose Quintana (6-6) on Curt Casali’s one-out double, Castillo’s single up the middle – his fifth hit of the season – and Hamilton’s opposite-field single to right, extending his hitting streak to five games.
The Reds went on to load the bases with two outs, but Quintana struck out Votto looking to end the threat.