ST. LOUIS -- Whether the Reds reach the postseason or not, their road to October has been littered with potholes the past three weeks. At the same time, the race for the second National League Wild Card spot has become one where no team has taken control.
A 2-0 loss to the Cardinals in Sunday's rubber game at Busch Stadium meant a sixth consecutive series loss for Cincinnati.
"We want to win, that’s for sure. We just have to keep trucking along and see where we come out on the other side," said Reds pitcher Sonny Gray, who took a hard-luck loss despite a strong seven-inning start.
The Reds (75-69) have lost six of their last nine and 12 of their last 18 games. Despite that, they remain tied with the Padres after San Diego lost Sunday as well. But St. Louis is just one game behind both clubs in the standings.
"We're not down on ourselves at all," Reds second baseman Jonathan India said. "It's tough, for sure. We're going to come through, I know we are. I know we're going to make that playoff spot. At the end of this, we're going to laugh at it. We're going to laugh at these losses."
Gray allowed two runs on three hits with one walk and six strikeouts. His eight-start streak without a loss -- including five consecutive wins -- was snapped. Since his last defeat -- also to St. Louis -- on July 25, Gray is 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA.
There were two outs in the first inning when Gray gave up Tyler O'Neill's single to left field. Next was Nolan Arenado, who drove a 2-0 sinker to left field for a two-run homer.
"Just one pitch kind of got me today," Gray said. "I’m trying to go in and I yank it just a little bit on the plate. It was just one pitch, I wouldn’t have done anything different."
Gray retired 14 in a row after the Arenado homer and had only two more runners reach base safely -- both in the sixth inning. But the Reds’ offense couldn't pick him up.
In its last 18 games, the Reds are batting .220 as a team while scoring 64 runs in that span -- an average of 3.6 runs per game.
"It's getting late in the year and we're all battling," India said. "That's what it is. At the end of the day, we'll be fine. I know we will."
While the team's perceived lack of urgency might flummox Reds fans, the team still finds itself in a very favorable position to feel confident. Since Aug. 24 -- when they were one game ahead of the Padres -- they have lost virtually no ground.
The Wild Card picture
With 18 games left on their regular-season schedule, the path ahead still offers opportunity for the Reds. Including the next three games at Pittsburgh, they have nine games remaining vs. the last-place Pirates, three vs. the Dodgers, four vs. another last-place team in the Nationals and two against the White Sox.
"In a way, we can control our own destiny. I feel good with it," Gray said. "There’s nothing that we need to happen or anything. We’ll go as far as we allow ourselves to go.”
Also-slumping San Diego, which just endured a losing series to the Dodgers, doesn't face a sub-.500 club the rest of the way. It has 10 games left vs. the first-place Giants, three against the Cardinals, four vs. the Braves and three more vs. the Dodgers.
St. Louis still must play three games against the Mets, three vs. the Padres, seven vs. the first-place Brewers and seven against the Cubs.
Philadelphia has the easiest remaining schedule but it just squandered a home series to the Rockies by losing three of four games. The Phillies, which have lost seven of their last 10 games, have three games left vs. the Cubs, three vs. the Mets, three vs. the Orioles, four against the Pirates, three vs. the Braves and three against the Marlins.
None of the other clubs' schedules will matter as much if the Reds don't start taking care of their own business.
"Listen, I trust our team. I trust where we are," Reds manager David Bell said. "Clearly, we’re not satisfied by any means with the last six series or whatever it’s been. But there is no time to think about that. The bottom line is: I trust who we are, each one of these guys; offensively, defensively and our pitching. I feel great about moving forward with this entire group. It’s pretty easy to be positive when you’re around this group every day. That’s the way I see it today. Just trusting them really helps with that."