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Reds’ playoff push takes slight detour in desert set

Series finale loss to Arizona pushes Cincinnati 1 1/2 games back in NL Wild Card chase.

PHOENIX — August 27, 2023 (content by Mark Sheldon,

Arizona offered no desert oasis to the Reds from their wilting month of August.

A four-game series vs. the D-backs was a prime opportunity to vanquish a National League Wild Card foe in head-to-head play. Vanquish went out the window after Cincinnati dropped the first two games, but leaving town with a split was possible.

That melted away with a 5-2 loss on Sunday afternoon at Chase Field, when Arizona scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Reds lost three of four games, with an extra-innings balk on Saturday being the difference from getting swept. They are now 9-15 in August.

“It’s a big series, but there’s still a lot of games left,” starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft said. “We just have to keep trucking. You never know what the future holds.”

The immediate future is another series carrying postseason implications at San Francisco, with three games against the Giants.

At 68-64, the Reds fell to 1 1/2 games behind the D-backs for the third NL Wild Card berth, but they own the tiebreaker advantage because of winning the season series.

The Cubs, which hold the second spot over Arizona by a half-game, come to Cincinnati for a four-game series that begins on Friday. The Giants (67-63) are tied with the Reds after San Francisco’s 8-5 win over Atlanta on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the Reds’ chances for an NL Central title have drifted further away. They are in third place and six games behind the first-place Brewers.

“These games are all really important, fighting for a playoff spot,” said left fielder Spencer Steer, who scored the tying run on Noelvi Marte’s two-out RBI single in the seventh inning. “It doesn’t change what we do on the field. We’re still going to be ourselves and play loose, play our brand of baseball.

“I think we focus on doing that and coming in every day and focusing on just playing good baseball, I think that’s a good recipe.”

There were a lot of things going in the Reds’ favor throughout the weekend to portend a better outcome than what they got.

First, NL Cy Young Award contender Zac Gallen didn’t even pitch in the series. On Thursday, Cincinnati got a huge eighth inning pinch-hit homer from Nick Senzel after his recall from Triple-A and still lost, 3-2, on Corbin Carroll’s two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth.

On Friday, the Reds nearly overcame Hunter Greene’s poor start with two homers by Nick Martini and a ninth-inning grand slam from Will Benson but were still beaten, 10-8.

In the finale, Ashcraft delivered on his end with 6 2/3 innings, while allowing two earned runs. The Reds also got a brilliant relay in the fifth inning when Elly De La Cruz threw out the speedy Carroll at the plate with a 99.7 mph relay throw to prevent an inside-the-park home run.

But they were still unable to come out ahead.

Ashcraft had a 2-1 lead in the seventh when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. led off with a game-tying homer to left field.

“Graham was outstanding today, one of his best starts of the year,” Reds manager David Bell said.

Unlike Saturday, the Reds lost the battle of the bullpens when Ian Gibault and Lucas Sims combined to allow four walks in the bottom of the eighth inning — leading to three runs.

The go-ahead run scored on Christian Walker’s sacrifice fly to cap a series that had the feel of fall playoff baseball despite the triple-digit temperatures outside the enclosed ballpark.

“Our bullpen has pitched a lot. That was definitely a factor in giving up the tie game,” Bell said. “It was a battle for sure. Evenly matched teams. We got a lot out of it. We learned a lot.

“We would have liked to have come out of here with a win today, for sure. But we have a lot ahead of us.”

The Reds have defied expectations all season by having short memories and moving on quickly from rough games and rougher series. Their ability to make it into the playoffs could hinge on how they respond in the next two series.

“We talked about it last night. Winning a game like [Saturday] night, you can definitely get a lot out of that and that can carry over,” Bell said. “We also talked about when we have tough losses, [and] our team’s ability to bounce back.

“We just have to continue to be consistent and take the same approach no matter what happened yesterday.”

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