Cubs implode late, get swept by last-place Reds

by - Senior Writer -
Chicago Cubs middle reliever Pedro Strop suffered his worst outing of the season in a disastrous seventh-inning showing. (Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)
Chicago Cubs middle reliever Pedro Strop suffered his worst outing of the season in a disastrous seventh-inning showing. (Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

CINCINNATI — Leading 6-1 and in total control of the ballgame midway through the seventh inning on Sunday, the Chicago Cubs seemed well on their way to ending a three-game skid against the Cincinnati Reds and avoiding a four-game sweep at the Great American Ballpark. However, a pitching change proved to be disastrous for the Cubs, just like two of the previous three games. With reliever Pedro Strop giving up four runs as part of a seven-run seventh for the Reds, the Cubs blew a lead for the third time in the series and lost 8-6.

In many ways, the Cubs' performance against the Reds in the four-game set was too bad to be true. Entering the series with the best record in the National League, the Cubs managed to allow 31 runs in a span of four games to the last-place Reds and gave up more than five runs in each of the four games. While the Reds bullpen allowed just one run in the entire series, the Cubs bullpen was essentially responsible for three of Chicago's four losses.

Making the letdown even harder to swallow is the Cubs' dominance of the Reds in recent years. Now standing at 3-6 against Cincinnati this year, the Cubs never lost more than seven times to the Reds in any of manager Joe Maddon's previous three seasons at the helm in Chicago. Furthermore, this series marked the first four-game sweep suffered by the Cubs at the hands of the Reds in 35 years.

It also brought an unfortunate ending to the Cubs' season series at the Reds. While the two divisional foes are scheduled to do battle in three separate series at Wrigley Field over the course of the remainder of the 2018 regular season, Sunday's contest served as the last meeting between the two clubs in the Queen City this year. Needless to say, the loss wrapped up a forgettable trip to Cincinnati for the Cubs, who were swept in a four-game series in which they allowed six or more runs in each game for the first time since 1970.

Sunday's contest featured a Cubs starting pitcher exiting the game on a sour note, which was a persistent theme of the four-game affair. Mike Montgomery threw six solid innings before falling apart in the seventh and leaving a messy situation behind for Strop to attempt to clean up. Strop ultimately failed to do so, and he picked up his first losing decision of the season, as a result, to become 3-1. As for Montgomery, he was charged with four runs on six hits and two walks, with his seventh-inning output skewing what was, overall, a decent performance.

After suffering through multitudinous big innings by the Reds over the course of the previous three games, the Cubs finally took control of a game with a big inning of their own. Chicago had a chance to take the lead in the third inning, but center fielder Albert Almora, Jr., was gunned down at home while attempting score from first on a two-out double by Javier Baez . However, by scoring five runs on five hits in the fifth inning, the Cubs made up for it and then some, taking a 5-0 lead against Reds starting pitcher Sal Romano. That inning proved to be Romano's last, and he departed having given up five runs on eight hits and one walk.

The top of the fifth featured a two-out rally on behalf of Chicago. With runners on first and second and two outs, Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward smacked a double off the wall in left to score a pair of runs. Baez, who went 2-4 on the day, followed that up with an RBI single, and Rizzo then gave the Cubs a five-run advantage with a two-run bomb. Breaking out of an 0-12 slump, Rizzo picked up his first hit of the series with the 401-foot blast to right-center.

Michael Lorenzen, a pitcher for the Reds who happens to have a knack for hitting for power, entered the game in a pinch-hitting spot in the bottom half of the fifth and took Montgomery deep on a solo home run to left. Lorenzen's dinger was the second homer by a Reds pitcher in as many games, as Cincinnati starter Anthony DeSclafani jacked a grand slam on Saturday. Almora, Jr., who showed out at the dish by going 3-5, gained the five-run lead back for his team in the seventh by skying a towering shot to right field for his third home run of the year.

The bottom of the seventh essentially undid all of the offensive production that the Cubs had manufactured up to that point, however, as the Reds tacked on seven runs via seven hits and three walks. A meltdown of epic proportions, the bottom of the seventh saw Montgomery and Strop combine to allow the first eight Cincinnati hitters to reach base before the first out was recorded.

With runners on second and third and no outs, Jose Peraza chased Montgomery from the game with a one-run single to right. Strop, who has arguably been the Cubs' most reliable middle reliever this season, then came into the game and immediately made a significant mistake. Throwing a fastball right down the pipe on his first pitch, Strop was taken deep by Jesse Winker for the Reds' second pinch-hit home run of the matchup. The three-run bomb to left made the score 6-5, and two of the three runs scored because of it were charged to Montgomery.

Strop proceeded to give up three more hits and a walk before finally accruing the inning's first out. Tucker Barnhart knotted the game up with an RBI single that scored the speedy Billy Hamilton from second. Slugger Joey Votto then swatted a double to right-center to provide the Reds with their first lead of the game. With two outs and the bases loaded, Strop walked Peraza, who was credited with two RBI in the inning. Strop was taken out after that. When it was all said and done, he gave up four hits an three walks in just two-thirds of an inning.

The Cubs had a man advance into scoring position in the eighth when Willson Contreras hit a one-out double, but Reds reliever Amir Garrett got the other three batters who stepped up to the plate in the top of the eighth to strike out swinging, earning Garrett his 14th hold. Reds closer Raisel Iglesias went three up, three down in the ninth to secure the 8-6 win and tally his 13th save.

Reds reliever Jackson Stephens, who gave up the home run to Almora, Jr., received his first win of the year to move to 1-0. In the finale of a series defined by sporadic scoring barrages by the Reds (32-45), Cincinnati used its best offensive inning yet to garner a coveted sweep of the rival Cubs (42-33), who are now 4-6 in their last 10 games.

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