With a clear sky above, the Cincinnati Reds played as if they could use a rain delay or three, as they fell to the Chicago Cubs by a score of 9-4.
The game was much closer than the final score reveals it to be. A back-and-forth contest for the first eight innings, the floodgates opened on the Reds and Sean Marshall in the ninth, putting the game out of reach.
Struggling mightily for the second consecutive outing, Tony Cingrani surrendered first inning runs for the third consecutive appearance. The first four hitters all made loud contact, with Anthony Rizzo highlighting the inning by blasting a two-run home run to the opposite field. Cingrani escaped the jam by striking out back-to-back batters, but those would result in his only punchouts of the night.
Answering in a timely fashion, the Reds put up a crooked number of their own in the bottom half of the first. Todd Frazier missed connecting on a three-run home run by a matter of feet, settling for a two-RBI double off the scoreboard, knotting the contest back up at two.
While it would not prove to last long, Brayan Pena pushed the Reds out to a one-run lead in the bottom of the second after connecting on his first home run as a member of the club. On the season, the combination of Pena and Devin Mesoraco has helped the Reds lead all of baseball in batting average by catchers.
Playing the role of kryptonite to Cingrani’s performance, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, batting third and fourth in the order, respectively, recorded only one out all evening. Castro drove in his only run of the night in the third to even the game back at three and establish to all those watching that Tony Cingrani by no means had his best stuff.
After just 4 innings and 79 pitches, Cingrani hit the showers and saw Nick Christiani come on out of the ‘pen.
The first pitch Christiani threw resembled the sound of a cannon blast off the bat of Junior Lake. From there, Christiani seemed to be frightened of allowing another hitter to make such solid contact, throwing eight consecutive balls to both Rizzo and Castro. Escaping with just two runs scampering across, Christiani did his best to institute damage control.
With the Cubs mediocre bullpen looming, the game had the feel of a slugfest in the making. Tacking on another run in the fifth due entirely to Billy Hamilton, Brandon Phillips drove in a run for the second consecutive night. Totaling six on the season, his numbers are a far reach from where they were at this point last season. (This year: 1 HR, 6 RBI – Last year: 4 HR, 24 RBI through April 29)
With Jay Bruce striking out to end the fifth inning with the Reds behind by just a measly run, it would have been difficult to predict the club collecting just two hits the rest of the way. Known for having a thin bullpen full of ineffective flamethrowers, the Cubs put it all together on Wednesday night.
Hitting the roughest patch of his career, J.J. Hoover needed to respond more than ever in his two innings of work against Chicago. Sans a Welington Castillo double, Hoover was lights out. Throwing his curveball at all points in the count consistently for a strike is vital to his overall success. Not normally expected to throw two innings, Hoover recorded six outs, four of the strikeout variety.
Looking as if they would end up on the wrong side of a one-run decision yet again, Sean Marshall was looking for a clean inning of work in the ninth to at least give the Reds a chance to tie the game up in their last licks.
Known for his sweeping curveball, Marshall can devastate hitters from either side of the plate, but he was fooling nary a Cubs hitter in the lineup on Wednesday. Only six of his 30 pitches were fastballs, with the rest being slop that rocketed around the yard to the tune of four runs on four hits. Plunging the Reds into a 9-4 hole, the night had effectively ended.
Just five games earlier, the Reds sat at .500. Optimism was alive and well for those in Reds Country who lack the patience April demands, but losing four of the last five has caused that same uproar to drown out any positives.
It is a simple matter of fact really: one-run ballgames are a “lucky” stat. So far, in 2014, the Reds are 4-9 in such games. Had three games swung in their favor (all of three runs), they would be 15-12, as opposed to the converse.
Health is on the horizon. As are games within the state of Ohio. This all gets fun as the calendar flips to May and the Reds welcome in the Brewers for their first significant series of the year. A four-game series with each team bruised up with dings and dents will prove who has the early inside track on the National League Central crown.
Taking the mound in the opener at 7:10 p.m. will be Homer Bailey, who faces off with Marco Estrada. Bailey is still searching for his first dominant performance, and Thursday night would seem like quite the stage for it.