How Sweep It Is
For the first time since 1983, the Cincinnati Reds completed a four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs. The Reds lost to the Cubs 43 times since 2015, while only winning 19 before the weekend series began, making the sweep sweeter than usual. It was the Reds’ second consecutive sweep and extends their winning streak to seven games, their longest of the season. It also marks the first time the Reds have had two separate winning streaks of at least six games since their division-winning squad in 2012.
The Reds are 24-18 in their last 42 games, including winners of 10 of their last 12. While reaching the .500 mark would still require quite a bit of work, it does not seem too crazy to think the Reds can finish 49-36 after watching the team play over the last week. The reason for the improved record is a drastic change with the Reds starting rotation.
During the winning streak, nearly every Reds starter has produced a quality start. Luis Castillo was one out away from reaching the feat in his start against the Cubs Friday night. He still managed to strike out five batters, while only allowing four hits and one walk in his five 2/3 innings.
Another impressive takeaway from the sweep, outside of the decisive 11-2 victory on Saturday, the Reds had to fight their way back to earn their wins. Early in the season, anytime the Reds fell behind, the game felt like it was already over. Over the last month and a half that feeling has vanished and it feels as if even when Reds are down, they are not out.
The series started with Matt Harvey on the hill, hoping to continue to improve on his comeback season. Harvey tossed six solid frames, outside of a small hiccup in the third inning. In the third, he drilled Kris Bryant, followed by a single from Jason Heyward. Javier Baez continued to be a top 10 run producer and delivered with a two-run double. After hitting Anthony Rizzo in the next at-bat, Harvey calmed down and forced an inning-ending double play. Only two of the next 11 batters reached base before Harvey was pulled for Michael Lorenzen to begin the seventh, but not before the Reds did some damage of their own.
The Reds only runs in the game came in the sixth inning, but it was more than enough to give Harvey his second win of the season. After loading the bases, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks walked Eugenio Suarez, immediately followed by Jesse Winker’s first grand slam of his career. The Reds were able to tack on one more run when Billy Hamilton singled to drive in Adam Duvall.
Lorenzen did not have his best outing, loading the bases after recording two outs, making way for Amir Garrett to finish the frame. He started the eighth, but Jared Hughes relieved him for the final out. Hughes finished the game with a perfect ninth to complete the 6-2 victory.
Game two yielded similar results, with the Reds walking away with a 6-3 win. Castillo threw nearly six innings while allowing three runs. Although he did not earn a quality start, he threw well enough to collect his fifth win of the season.
Hamilton began the scoring by driving in Curt Casali in the second inning. Chicago answered with three runs of their own. With the infield playing deep, Baez laid down a perfect bunt to score Ben Zobrist, followed by a two-run blast from Cincinnati native, Kyle Schwarber. In the bottom of the fifth, Joey Votto singled in Jose Peraza and two batters later, Suarez continued his fantastic season with a two-run bomb of his own. The Reds added on two more runs by separate singles in the seventh from Duvall and Alex Blandino in the eighth.
The bullpen was phenomenal throughout the entire game, not allowing a single Cub to reach base. Kyle Crockett made his season debut, relieving Castillo with two outs in the sixth, and proceeded to strike out the only batter he faced. David Hernandez tossed two perfect innings while recording three strikeouts along the way. In the ninth, Reds’ closer, Raisel Iglesias threw a perfect inning to pick up his 12th save of the season.
Saturday night was a much smoother path to victory. The Reds took an early lead off of a two-run home run from Tucker Barnhart, and never looked back. The Cubs were only able to put two runs on the board, from a pair of solo shots in the second and sixth inning, from Wilson Contreras and Zobrist respectively.
The highlight of the game came from Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani, but not in the fashion one might think. Scooter Gennett and Suarez drove in a pair of runs in the third, then that is when history happened. For the first home run of his career, DeSclafani hit a grand slam. The first grand slam by a Reds pitcher since 1956, and only the fourth ever in Reds history.
Joey Votto hit a three-run home run in the eighth to cap off a game that was all but won. With solid efforts from relievers Lorenzen, Garrett and Dylan Floro, the Reds were one game away from completing the sweep of Chicago.
Completing the Sweep
The final game of the series happened to be the most exciting of the sweep. Coming off a strong outing against the Detroit Tigers, Sal Romano was hoping to replicate those results. Unfortunately, that would not be the case. Romano was tagged for five runs in his five innings.
Down five runs, the Reds called on Lorenzen to pinch hit. Having a relief pitcher pinch hit is rare to see, but as Reds’ country knows, Lorenzen is no ordinary relief pitcher. He clubbed a solo shot into the left-field bleachers to close the gap. However, the Cubs responded two innings later with a solo shot of their own from 24-year-old slugger Albert Almora Jr. That would be the end of the fun for the large showing of Cubs fans at Great American Ballpark.
After Gennett and Duvall led the bottom half of the seventh with hits, Peraza lined to right to make it 6-2. Cubs pulled starter Mike Montgomery for Pedro Strop, who had a less than memorable outing. Winker’s recent power surge made another appearance, slugging a three-run home run to pull the Reds within one. They wasted no time getting runners on again with a single and a walk before Barnhart was able to tie the game. Votto followed Barnhart’s RBI single with an RBI double of his own. After intentionally walking Gennett, Peraza worked a walk with two outs to add the eighth and final run for Cincinnati.
Garrett replaced Jackson Stephens in the eighth, collecting three strikeouts, but most importantly, the coveted 11th strikeout, giving free pizza to the 30,000 fans in attendance. Iglesias pitched a perfect ninth to complete the sweep, for the Reds’ sixth win in nine tries this season.
Red Hot Reds
The Reds seem like they cannot be stopped right now. Even when faced with adversity, they have shown toughness and the ability to fight. The main goal for the Reds the rest of the season needs to be to show the steady increase with the rotation every time they take the mound. The offense has shown up all season and with the projected lineup for the 2019 season to look similar, hopefully, with top prospect Nick Senzel, that is not a concern for Cincinnati. If the pitching can be anything close to how it has performed lately, the Reds will have a serious chance to contend come October.
In a season full of disappointment, fans need to cherish the bright spots when they appear. This last week has certainly been a bright spot, and should only get better from here on out. The Reds’ hunt for October may be over, but they still have a chance to play spoiler for division rivals, and this weekend certainly did not help the Cubs, who are just trailing the Milwaukee Brewers for the top spot in the NL Central.
The Reds will head to Atlanta for a three-game set against the NL East-leading Braves. Tyler Mahle will take the mound Monday night looking to improve his 3.89 ERA. Harvey and Castillo will get the ball Tuesday and Wednesday night as the Reds look for their third sweep in a row to extend their winning streak to double digits.
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