by Matt Wilkes

Reds see early lead — and playoff chances — slip away vs. Cubs

For three innings, Thursday night’s game was setting up just like Wednesday’s win for the Reds.

The first inning was again kind, as they grabbed a 2-0 lead just three batters into the game. Joey Votto led off with a single and scored on a triple by Nick Castellanos. Jesse Winker drove home another run with a sacrifice fly. Unlike Wednesday, the scoring didn’t stop after the opening frame. Shogo Akiyama walked to lead off the second inning, stole second, and scored on a double by Brian Goodwin that ended a nine-pitch at-bat.

With Opening Day starter Sonny Gray on the mound, it seemed the Reds were on the precipice of taking a three-game series from the Cubs. But lest you forget, it’s 2020. The 3-0 lead evaporated, and the Reds ultimately dropped the series finale 7-5.

Gray turned in another short start, lasting only 3.1 innings while allowing five runs. While he wasn’t the best version of himself, he shut out the Cubs through three innings. A series of unfortunate breaks went his way in the fourth inning as the Reds’ lead disappeared. Only one ball left the infield, yet the Cubs plated five runs — yep, you read that correctly.

Steady rain fell throughout the night and got harder in the fourth inning, which clearly affected Gray. He slipped on the wet mound several times, and it seemed to affect his grip on the baseball as well. Gray walked two batters and gave up a weak infield single to Cameron Maybin (68.9 mph off the bat) to load the bases with one out. A two-run double by Nico Hoerner cut the Reds’ lead to one.

Gray got next batter Ian Happ to hit ground ball to second base. Mike Moustakas made a sliding stop and tried to throw out Happ while sitting down in short right field. The throw was late, and the play was so slow to develop that it allowed the speedy Hoener to score all the way from second, giving the Cubs a 4-3 lead.

That was all for Gray, who threw 31 pitches in the inning and got only one out. Michael Lorenzen walked the first batter he faced, threw a wild pitch to move up runners to second and third, and gave up an RBI groundout. Just like that, the 3-0 lead was a 5-3 deficit.

This was seemingly a place for David Bell to show some urgency and bring in one of his best relievers: Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett, or Archie Bradley — all of whom should’ve been available to pitch based on usage over the last few days. Instead, Bell stuck with Lorenzen in the fifth and the game got more out of hand. The right-hander gave up two more runs on two hits and a walk. He also twice failed to cover first base on ground balls to Votto, the second of which may have prevented an inning-ending double play. Lorenzen now owns a 4.87 ERA, 5.49 FIP, 5.50 xFIP, and a horrific 14.9% walk rate.

Tyler Thornburg cleaned up Lorenzen’s mess by striking out Happ. He returned in the sixth inning and continued to look sharp, striking out two of the first three hitters and allowing a ground ball single through the shift. Thornburg should’ve gotten out of the inning at that point, but Goodwin made yet another horrendous defensive play in center field when he dropped a routine fly ball. Thornburg walked the next batter on four pitches and was removed from the game with an elbow injury when he threw two more balls to the following hitter.

Robert Stephenson took over in the middle of the at-bat and got a bases-loaded strikeout. He worked around an infield single to throw a scoreless seventh, aided by Tyler Stephenson throwing out Billy Hamilton trying to steal second. Not a bad way to tally your first career caught stealing, eh?

Cincinnati scored twice in the seventh to claw their way back in it. Eugenio Suarez singled and Freddy Galvis reached on an error to begin the inning. Akiyama singled Suarez home but was thrown out at second after oversliding the base. That wound up being a huge play, as Tyler Stephenson followed with an RBI single that should’ve scored two runs.

With Sims and Nate Jones warming in the bullpen and the game back within reach, Bell turned to Jones — the worst remaining option in the bullpen — in the eighth to face the Cubs’ 2-3-4 hitters. Jones promptly gave up a run in the bottom of the eighth to take the air out of the comeback balloon.

Fittingly, the hardest-hit ball of the night for the Reds was a game-ending double play by Curt Casali.

Adding injury to insult, Moustakas left the game with a left leg contusion and Winker was removed in the seventh inning with back tightness.

Hardest-Hit Balls

  • Curt Casali: 104.7 mph | Double play in 9th inning
  • Nick Castellanos: 103.4 mph | Lineout in 3rd inning
  • Jose Garcia: 102.7 mph | Single in 5th inning
  • Joey Votto: 102.3 mph | Single in 1st inning
  • Joey Votto: 101.4 mph | Groundout in 7th inning

Highest Velocities By Pitcher

  • Michael Lorenzen: 98.2 mph
  • Nate Jones: 96.3 mph
  • Robert Stephenson: 95.6 mph
  • Tyler Thornburg: 94.1 mph
  • Sonny Gray: 93.8 mph

Unluckiest Out of the Day

  • Joey Votto: 91% hit probability | Groundout in 7th inning

What’s Next?

The Reds will head to St. Louis for a significant series against the Cardinals this weekend. The three-game set will kick off on Friday at 8:15 p.m. EST.

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

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kmartin
kmartin
2 months ago

Tyler Stephenson throwing out Billy Hamilton was a thing of beauty. I hope Yadier Molina sees the highlights of the game and is envious.

Steve Mancuso
Admin
2 months ago
Reply to  kmartin

Am I the only person reminded of Johnny Bench?

kmartin
kmartin
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Mancuso

No, the quickness with which Stephenson came out of his crouch was Bench-like in addition to the arm.

Brian Van Hook
Brian Van Hook
2 months ago

Wow, didn’t see the game after the few few innings. Some of those in-game decisions seem to make it harder to defend Bell. … There’s always stuff we don’t know, but geez.