Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Bullpen Sinks the Cincinnati Reds in Chicago

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Succumbing to the wondrous mystique that Wrigley Field encapsulates its opponents with, the Cincinnati Reds could not keep up their winning ways inside the friendly confines, falling 8-4 to a scuffling Cubs bunch.

Never quite shifting out of first gear, the Reds hung around long enough to keep the game interesting, but never led, and flushed away countless opportunities.  Against a team destined to finish near the back of the pack in the National League, wins become crucial.  Nonetheless, the Cubs are division rivals, and even they get their day in the sun.

Nabbing the leadoff batter in an inning is the key element to keeping a team off the scoreboard.  Four times in the game, including the first three innings, the Cubs pushed across the leadoff man. 

It was a troublesome afternoon for the Chicago native, Tony Cingrani.  There were no conflicted emotions—Cingrani grew up a White Sox fan, so he wanted to win as badly as anyone did. 

As the case when he does struggle, Cingrani was done in by his inability to throw strikes.  Striking out only one batter that wasn’t the opposing pitcher, Cingrani seemed to lack that extra gear on his fastball—a surefire way to explain his reliance on his off-speed pitches, which he does not yet have consist command of.  He threw only five innings and allowed three runs, but he was tenacious as usual. 

Dooming the Redlegs on Saturday afternoon was the club’s lone glaring weakness: middle relief.  Normal a position held down by Alfredo Simon, Manny Parra and Sam LeCure, the new middle relief resembles the Louisville Bats more than the Cincinnati Reds.  A large section of the fan base complained during the off-season that too large of a sum of the payroll was allocated to the bullpen–a claim that can only be made when things are going well. 

Both Logan Ondrusek and Nick Christiani bore the brunt of the bottom of the Cubs order. 

With the club trailing 3-2 in the bottom half of the sixth, Ondrusek had danced around a potential hazardous situation by getting a strike-‘em-out-throw-‘em-out double play.  Four batters later, he was headed to the showers with an inflated ERA. 

Serving up a no-doubter of a home run to Darwin Barney is a difficult task.  In fact, Barney has been so horrendous at the plate, that despite the fact that he’s a Gold Glove winning second baseman (yeah, because anyone in Reds Country actually believes that’s true…), he’s been continuously yanked from the starting lineup.  Getting his first two RBI’s of the season off Ondrusek, Barney put the Cubs ahead 5-2 on a moonshot into the bleacher creatures at Wrigley Field.

Surviving the activation of Sean Marshall, Nick Christiani was thrust into the flames of keeping the Reds within striking distance in the late innings.  After watching the eighth place hitter in Barney clobber a two-run shot, seventh place hitter Welington Castillo decided he should join the fun as well.  Annihilating a Christiani fastball that ran back over the plate, it all but sealed the deal on a Reds comeback.

The concept of “getting pitchers work” is a fine line to walk.  Manager Bryan Price has shown early on in his tenure that he is not afraid to live by a “sink or swim” strategy.  With Aroldis Chapman and Mat Latos still both a ways off, he is stuck with both Ondrusek and Christiani as members of his ‘pen. 

In Ondrusek’s case, it’s time for a change of scenery.  Or, a gigantic ballpark.  He has been given the unteachable gift of height, but has worn out his welcome with an organization that placed a large amount in faith of him.  For that reason, the club may be reluctant to let him go after putting in such an inordinate amount of time attempting to help him succeed. 

As far as Christiani is concerned, he’ll need to rebound.  Whomever comes back first of the Chapman/Latos duo will almost assuredly show Ondrusek the door, which leaves Christiani as the man with the stretchy arm. 

Offensively, things went well outside of the lack of hitting with runners in scoring position; but then again, what else is new? 

Things you already know: Joey Votto is the best left-handed hitter in baseball.  Billy Hamilton is the fastest man in baseball.  Devin Mesoraco is the current hottest hitter in baseball.  All three of these axioms held true, with Votto going 2-for-4 with a walk, Hamilton collecting three base hits (including a bunt base hit!) and swiping a bag, and Mesoraco going 2-for-4 with two more doubles and a RBI. 

Also turning the corner today was Jay Bruce.  Going 3-for-3 with a walk, Bruce was spraying the ball to all fields; especially in his last at-bat, which was a RBI single…to left field!  Sure, the ball grazed off Mike Olt’s glove at third, but that’s probably because he didn’t believe Bruce was even capable of doing such a dastardly deed—or at least that’s what the spray charts said. 

Yet again, the club refused to go quietly.  Trailing 3-0 in the sixth, they put up two runs to pull within one.  After the Cubs got three in the bottom of the frame, they came back out and got two more.  Eventually, the bullpen was letting in more water than it was cutting loose, drowning the offense underneath it. 

With the potential sweep out the window, the Reds will have to settle for a simple series win against the misery-bound Chicago Cubs.  Searching for his first productive start of the season, Homer Bailey gets the ball on Sunday afternoon against the league’s weakest offense.  Throwing for the Cubs will be long reliever/spot starter Carlos Villanueva…crafty mustache and all. 

Check out of the game at 2:20 P.M. tomorrow and be sure to check in here at its conclusion for your daily Reds game wrap-up.

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