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Reds drop finale, but eye 'strong stretch'

Lorenzen allows game-deciding homer after Castillo's 6 2/3; Cincinnati sits seven games back
@m_sheldon
August 11, 2019

CINCINNATI -- Getting a four-game series split against the Cubs this weekend wasn’t the worst outcome the Reds could’ve had after they were routed in the opener on Thursday. But following dynamic back-to-back wins, Sunday’s 6-3 loss to Chicago at Great American Ball Park felt like one big missed opportunity.

CINCINNATI -- Getting a four-game series split against the Cubs this weekend wasn’t the worst outcome the Reds could’ve had after they were routed in the opener on Thursday. But following dynamic back-to-back wins, Sunday’s 6-3 loss to Chicago at Great American Ball Park felt like one big missed opportunity.

Box score

Especially since Cincinnati and its ace starter, Luis Castillo, carried a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning. But when two-out trouble appeared for Castillo, reliever Michael Lorenzen couldn’t contain the damage as Kris Bryant hit the decisive three-run homer.

“It’s very frustrating,” Reds first baseman Joey Votto said of the split series. “The first game not withstanding, I felt like we played really good ball throughout the series. We’re going to have more opportunities to play against them in series. But today was a disappointing loss.”

The fourth-place Reds (56-60) dropped to seven games behind the first-place Cubs in the National League Central standings, exactly where they were when the series began. Had they taken three of four, that would’ve put them only five back with 46 games remaining.

Up next for the Reds is a brief three-game road trip at Washington, followed by four home games against the team one spot ahead of them in the division table: the third-place Cardinals.

“These are great opportunities, and we have to take full advantage of it,” Votto said. “With limited games left in the season, we have to win a really high percentage of these games. Luck, more or less, has been taken out of our hands now. We have to take full control and just will the wins, just make them happen. We’re going to do that.”

During a two-out rally in the third inning against Jon Lester, the Reds took a 2-0 lead thanks to Votto’s RBI double and Aristides Aquino’s RBI single. With two outs in the fifth inning, Eugenio Suarez drove a 3-0 sinker from Lester for his team-leading 33rd homer.

Castillo pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and a walk with eight strikeouts in a no-decision. He carried a shutout into the sixth inning, but cracks began to form as the Cubs rallied. Javier Baez ripped an RBI double to left field to cut Cincinnati’s lead to two runs. Leading off the seventh, Ian Happ just missed a home run and settled for a double off the top of the left field wall and scored from third base on a groundout.

Manager David Bell lifted Castillo following a Jason Heyward infield hit. Lorenzen took over and gave up a single to Nicholas Castellano, and Bryant immediately followed by hitting a first-pitch slider for a three-run homer to left field.

“He was going up against two really good hitters, Castellanos and Bryant. In that situation, I trust both guys,” Bell said. “I'd seen some signs with Luis, as good as he was in the sixth and the beginning of the seventh there … I thought that was the right decision. It obviously didn't work out.”

Mahle prepares for potential role in 'pen

Lorenzen, who pitched on Friday in a 5-2 win, has faced five batters in his last two appearances and failed to record an out. Before that, he had a scoreless streak of 8 2/3 innings with only one hit, but nine walks allowed.

“When you lose the game for your team, it's tough to swallow, for sure,” Lorenzen said.

While falling short on Sunday, the Reds still have reason to see their club on the sunny side of the street.

• While winning 10 of their last 15 games, the Reds offense has scored 79 runs with 26 home runs.

• Aquino, who hit three homers in the Reds’ 10-1 win Saturday, has been nothing short of sensational, batting .452 with an astounding 1.661 OPS in 10 games since he was promoted from Triple-A Louisville. He’s also riding an eight-game hitting streak.

• Suarez has been very hot, with a homer in each of his last three games and four in his last five.

“There are many good things happening for us offensively, and he's been a constant in that mix all year. Just a really good player and a really good teammate and a big part of where we are,” Bell said.

• The rotation has remained a big strength of the team. Saturday’s starter, Sonny Gray, is on a streak of 13 scoreless innings over his last two starts. Trade Deadline acquisition Trevor Bauer struck out 11 batters on Friday in a very strong home debut.

• For the first time since 2013, the Reds are playing meaningful games in August and feeling the rush of must-have wins like the previous two and disappointment in losses like Sunday’s.

“Most of us said in April and May that we’re going to be competitive in September,” Votto said. “It’s going to take a really strong stretch here over the next three-ish weeks. Then come Sept. 1, it’s the most important time of the year. We’ll play well this next stretch. We’ll play well and be competitive in September. It’s a good time to be a Reds fan.”

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.