CINCINNATI -- Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon must feel like every move he makes is the wrong one right now as his team was swept by the last-place Cincinnati Reds after an 8-6 loss on Sunday, getting outscored 31-13 over the four games.
The Cubs led 5-0, but a move to the bullpen once again backfired as reliever Pedro Strop gave up a three-run home run to Jesse Winker on his first pitch, part of a seven-run seventh inning that turned a 6-1 deficit into an 8-6 lead for the home team. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the four-game sweep was the first for the Reds over the Cubs since April 1983.
"That's a tough one to swallow," Strop said after the Cubs' fourth consecutive loss. "We lose three games and this one we thought we should have had [after leading 5-0]. You just give it up. It's a tough one to swallow."
Strop said he had no command of his fastball as five straight batters reached base after he relieved starter Mike Montgomery with two on and no outs in the seventh. This came a day after reliever Brian Duensing allowed inherited runners to score in another Reds win. It has been a disturbing trend for them this month while they play without top bullpen arms Carl Edwards Jr. (shoulder) and Brandon Morrow (back). Cubs relievers have allowed more than 40 percent of inherited runners to score in June after allowing just 19 percent in May.
"Sometimes it doesn't work out," Maddon said. "Give the Reds credit. They really did swing the bat well."
That's the secondary storyline as Cincinnati is 29-30 under interim manager Jim Riggleman after starting the season 3-15. The Reds are not a typical last-place, rebuilding team, but the Cubs are built for October, and with another four-game series in Los Angeles coming up, things can slide the other way quickly.
"It hurts," infielder Javier Baez said. "We do get mad, but at the end of the day that doesn't make you better. It gets everything out of you, but you still have to make adjustments."
Some may be critical of Maddon's bullpen moves as a few of his relievers may be overworked, but both Duensing and Strop were well rested before they imploded. Right or wrong, whoever he calls upon is getting hit hard right now. There are other issues as the Cubs are leaking water in plenty of facets of the game as their defense, starting pitching, offense and, of course, bullpen came up short over the weekend.
"They kind of kicked our ass this series," Montgomery said.
The relaxing news for the team is that they've been here before. In fact, coincidentally, in each of the past two Junes, the Cubs have struggled mightily, only to right the ship after the All-Star break, en route to back-to-back division titles.
"We beat the Dodgers two out of three [last week] and we're the best team since the 1927 Yankees," Maddon said Sunday morning before the latest loss. "Then Cincinnati beats us for three days and all of a sudden it's doom and gloom. I cannot live my life that way."
Tell that to Cubs fans who are on an emotional roller coaster that won't end on Monday in Los Angeles. That's where the Cubs will allow 2012 second-round pick Duane Underwood to make his major league debut, as starter Tyler Chatwood left the team Sunday for the birth of his first child. It's just another stumbling block for the Cubs, who have trailed the Milwaukee Brewers in the standings for most of the first half.
As the team packed to leave Cincinnati, Maddon preached calmness. He and his coaches are wearing bib overalls for the trip to Los Angeles. A four-game sweep by the Reds -- during which the Cubs allowed six or more runs in each contest in a sweep for the first time since 1970 -- isn't changing that decision.
"This was pre-planned," Maddon said of wearing overalls. "You still eat. You still sleep. You still pet your puppy and move on."