Reds swept by Brewers as standings gap widens

July 16th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- When it comes to facing the Brewers in a series this year, the Reds will get only one more bite of the apple. It sure hasn't tasted very good so far.

The latest bitter chomp came Sunday during a 4-3 defeat at Great American Ball Park, which completed Milwaukee's three-game sweep. The Brewers have taken each of the last four games and eight of 10 games in the season series.

"They smacked us around, there's no hiding that," Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson said. "They did well. We're confident in ourselves. When we go back there we've got to prove ourselves again."

The Brewers, who were two games behind Cincinnati on July 6, have opened a two-game lead in the National League Central race as the Reds missed an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and their closest rival.

“I think it’s just going to fire us up more to play against them next time," Reds starting pitcher Ben Lively said. "We’re not going to let it happen again for sure. It was a tough one.”

Lively, who pitched four solid innings with one run allowed on a Christian Yelich home run in the top of the third inning, exited as a precaution before the fifth inning because of cramping. He is expected to make his next start.

The Reds’ offense finally showed some signs of life after three straight shutout losses to the Brewers, including one before the All-Star break, but a defensive lapse by center fielder TJ Friedl led to the Brewers scoring the go-ahead run.

Cincinnati held a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning as Milwaukee had runners on the corners. Owen Miller drove a sacrifice fly to deep center field. After making the catch, Friedl made an ambitious throw to the plate, over the cut-off man as Willy Adames scored easily. That enabled pinch-runner Tyrone Taylor to advance to second base. Taylor scored on Andruw Monasterio's two-out RBI single for the difference in the game.

"TJ was trying to make a play," Reds manager David Bell said. "We encourage our outfielders and all of our defenders to make plays, to not be fearful of not making plays. In that situation, if he had to do it over again, he makes the throw to second and keeps the runner in at first. TJ will learn from that. He’s such a smart player. He does so many things right on the baseball field."

Cincinnati notched its first extra-base hit of the series in the second inning when Joey Votto's RBI double to the wall in left-center field scored Jonathan India. It ended the Reds' season-high scoreless streak at 28 innings. Jake Fraley's two-run homer in the third inning gave the Reds a 3-1 lead.

"Getting back on the board was great. There are definitely signs," Bell said. "Today was a good day in that respect. It felt like the kind of game where typically we keep scoring and we weren’t able to do that. It made it tough on our bullpen. That’s what we’ve done all year. We’ll get back to doing that."

On the positive side, the Reds’ starting pitching has been strong in the last four losses to Milwaukee -- with five earned runs allowed over 21 2/3 innings. A notable negative has been the offense batting .117 in those same games with 51 strikeouts.

The final series between the division's top two clubs is set for July 24-26 at Milwaukee. Besides the Brewers, the Reds have a lot on their plate for the remainder of this month.

First up is a four-game series vs. a very hot Giants team that has won five in a row. From July 21-23, the D-backs come to town for three games. Then comes the Brewers again, followed by a three-game series vs. the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

If the regular season ended today, all four opponents would be in the postseason. The Reds would be out.

“We’ve just got to play good baseball. We’re more than capable of winning these games," Reds first baseman Spencer Steer said. "You’ve got hot bats and they go ice cold all of a sudden. It’s just the way it goes sometimes. You’ve got to keep chipping away and find ways to win some games coming up here.”