Cincinnati Reds' starting catcher Tucker Barnhart tosses a ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 30 at Chase Field in Phoenix. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo
Not that long ago, the Chicago Cubs probably viewed a series against the Cincinnati Reds as a near-guaranteed way to pick up some quick victories and gain some ground in the National League Central standings.
Those days have changed. And so is the Cubs-Reds rivalry.
The Cubs couldn't hold a multi-run lead for the second straight night, and the Reds won their fifth in a row and eighth in 10 games -- quite a run for a team that played .250 ball for the first month-plus of the season -- by rallying for a 6-3 victory on Friday night.
Now, the Cubs are expected to ask their bullpen to carry them through the third game of the four-game series Saturday at Great American Ball Park -- a series that isn't going much like most of those Cubs-Reds matchups for the last four seasons.
Going into the series, the Cubs were 43-19 against the Reds since 2015, but the Reds are playing much differently now than they did when they were 8-27 on May 7. They're 4-0 on their current homestand, even though they still remain well below .500 at 30-45.
"Even when we were losing, they (his veteran players) felt like, 'We're a good ballclub, we're going to get our share (of wins),'" Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "(When) we're on a roll like this, they feel like we're just going to keep going with it."
Eugenio Suarez lifted his average to .304 by going 3-for-4 with a go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth inning off Jose Quintana (6-6) and Joey Votto had two hits and an RBI. Quintana gave up four runs and nine hits in five innings.
"We're playing really good baseball," Suarez said. "We've got to keep doing what we're doing -- and keep winning. If we play like this, something good is going to happen."
The Cubs scored three times against Reds starter Luis Castillo (5-8) in 5 2/3 innings -- Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run homer in the fourth -- but former Cleveland Indians pitcher Kyle Crockett pitched out of a two-on jam in the sixth in his Reds debut.
The Cubs managed only four hits in the game, David Hernandez pitched two scoreless innings and Raisel Iglesias finished in the ninth for his 12th save.
The Cincinnati bullpen has pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the series so far.
"That was one of the cleaner games we're played -- offensively, defensively, we ran the bases well ... and got timely hits," Riggleman said. "When you do that, you're probably going to win."
Now, the Reds have the improving Anthony DeSclafani (2-1) pitching Saturday. The right-hander missed the first two months of the season with an oblique injury after sitting out all of last season with an elbow injury, but he has won his last two starts while lowering his ERA from 7.60 to 4.20.
He's 2-2 in seven career starts against the Cubs, and he handles Chicago cleanup hitter Anthony Rizzo (2-for-20, .100) especially well.
It's expected to be a bullpen game for the Cubs, with former Reds pitcher Luke Farrell (2-2) making his first start of the season and only the second of his major league career. The longest he has pitched this season was five shutout relief innings during the Cubs' 7-1, 14-inning victory over the New York Mets on June 2.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon stayed with his recent experiment of using slugger Kris Bryant as a leadoff hitter -- he was 9-for-24 (.375) with three RBIs in that spot going into the game -- but he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
"He gets on base a lot, he's possibly one of the best baserunners on the team," Maddon told reporters. "It's one of those things -- preconceived notions -- that you get hung up on. But I like what he's doing. When the bottom of the order has been productive, there's a potential for a lot of baserunners in the one-hole."
Only there wasn't any such potential Friday as the Cubs' No. 7-8-9 batters were a combined 0-for-9. It also didn't help that Rizzo went 0-for-4 and stranded three runners.
And, now, suddenly the Cubs-Reds rivalry isn't what it used to be.