NEW YORK -- The Reds had the National League’s best record in July and they were third-best in the Major Leagues at 16-10. To improve their hopes of reaching the playoffs, they may have to play even better in August.
Sunday’s 7-1 victory over the Mets started the new month on a high note for the Reds. It gave them two of three games and their first series win at Citi Field since 2013. The victory was also the perfect elixir to purge the frustration from letting Saturday’s game get away in extra innings.
“It’s pretty impressive what our entire team continues to do after we take a tough loss,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Our players have been doing this all year, where they just bounce back and come out the next day and go out and win the game. It’s not always easy to do that, and it says so much about the players on this team.”
Back to a season-high-tying six games over .500 at 56-50, Cincinnati has won five of its last six games and seven of its last 10. The Reds have also won their last three series after opening the second half by losing five of their first six games.
“Even though we stay focused on today, we know what we’re playing for. As we move deeper in the year, they become more and more important,” Bell said. “We know we have a long way to go, but each and every guy on this team should feel really good and proud of just the way they’ve gone about it all year. This road trip was really impressive.”
Starting pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez gave Cincinnati seven innings while allowing one earned run off three hits and two walks with four strikeouts. The only run Gutierrez gave up came on Jeff McNeil’s one-out homer to center field in the sixth.
“We’re in second place right now, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop fighting and winning these games,” Gutierrez said via translator Jorge Merlos. “We know there are other teams below us that can still pass us. We know we still have to keep going and we can’t stop doing what we’re doing.”
Mets starter Marcus Stroman, who allowed one hit over eight scoreless innings against the Reds on July 21, was far more hittable on Sunday. Part of his career-best five-hit game while filling in at first base for the resting Joey Votto, Max Schrock lifted a two-out solo homer to right field in the fourth inning.
Cincinnati got some more distance from New York in the sixth inning. Jesse Winker hit a leadoff double off Stroman and scored on Kyle Farmer’s RBI triple to left-center field that extended his career-high hitting streak to 10 games. Tyler Stephenson added another run with a sacrifice fly that scored Farmer. After Stroman was pulled, reliever Miguel Castro walked Gutierrez with the bases loaded to make it a 4-0 game. A three-run ninth, including Tyler Naquin’s two-run double, put the game away.
Here is why the Reds are in great position to keep their momentum into August:
• The Mets are the last playoff contender the Reds play for a little while. Following Monday’s off-day, Cincinnati opens a six-game homestand Tuesday vs. a pair of last-place clubs. It begins with two games vs. the Twins, followed by four against the Pirates.
• Of the next 20 games on the schedule, only one game is against a team with a .500 or better record -- a makeup game at Cleveland on Aug. 9.
“We’ve got to keep our head down, keep our blinders on and play our game,” Farmer said. “We’re going to have some guys coming back here soon, so that’ll be fun to have them back on the squad. Just keep working hard.”
• Some very key members of the lineup could be back soon. Nick Castellanos -- out with a right wrist microfracture since mid-July -- could be activated from the injured list as soon as Tuesday. Mike Moustakas and Nick Senzel recently began rehab assignments at Triple-A Louisville.
• The club improved its weakest link -- the bullpen and its 29th-ranked ERA -- by adding three relievers via trades and got Michael Lorenzen back from the IL.
Mychal Givens, acquired from Colorado, worked three scoreless innings in his first three appearances with Cincinnati. After arriving from the Yankees, Justin Wilson has two scoreless appearances. Another former Yankee, Luis Cessa, gave up the hit for a walk-off loss Saturday, but he debuted with a scoreless inning on Wednesday. Lorenzen returned from a hamstring injury Friday and threw back-to-back perfect one-inning appearances.
The second-place Reds are seven games behind the Brewers in the NL Central standings and are still looking up to the Padres in the NL Wild Card race. The opportunity to close ground is there, but Bell has emphasized the importance of staying present.
“Our players have done a great job of not getting ahead of themselves and knowing how much we have left to go and have left to accomplish,” Bell said.