Thursday, September 28, 2023
    HomeSportReds NL Central contenders thanks to young hitters

    Reds NL Central contenders thanks to young hitters

    CHICAGO — Amid preseason talk about the Reds rebuilding and coming off a 100-loss season, little consideration was given to the idea they could be in the hunt in the National League Central this year.

    Yet, here they are. Rebuilding … and contending?

    Sunday’s 8-5 victory over the Cubs completed a three-game sweep in which Cincinnati hitters scored 25 runs with 45 hits. It was their first series sweep at Wrigley Field since Aug. 12-14, 2013. Although five games under .500 at 24-29, the Reds sit third in a weakened division and trail the first-place Brewers by four games. As recently as Thursday, the Reds were tied for the worst record in the NL.

    “If people could come and feel the camaraderie we have in this clubhouse, it’s unmatched. There are a lot of great things coming,” said starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft, who pitched five innings for the victory. “There’s a lot more to come with guys [in the Minors] tearing it up. There’s a lot of season left. We’ve just got to keep doing what we do to play our tails off.”

    Matt McLain
    The shortstop and club’s No. 5 prospect, who is ranked 91st overall by MLB Pipeline, had four hits on Sunday, including a game-tying RBI double in the third inning. In 12 games since McLain was promoted from Louisville on May 15, he has a slash line of .380/.456/.600 and currently has a seven-game hitting streak.

    “I’m just trying to do my part,” McLain said. “Numbers are in the past. I’m trying to be in the present. No matter what happens, I’m onto the next pitch.”

    McLain’s speed set up the go-ahead run in the fifth inning on Sunday. On first base with one out, he was picked off by Cubs pitcher Drew Smyly but bolted safely for second base. McLain later took third base when Smyly made a throwing error to second base.

    “He put the pressure on. We have some speed,” manager David Bell said. “We really believe that it’s a big part of our game to be aggressive on the bases. Always look to try to advance.”

    TJ Friedl
    The outfielder has four two-hit games, including four doubles, in four games since returning from the injured list. He didn’t start on Sunday, but his two-out pinch-hit double scored McLain in the fifth inning.

    Friedl is slashing .333/.384/.507 in his 41 games this season.

    “One advantage of not starting TJ, which hasn’t happened a lot, you get that at-bat off the bench,” Bell said. “But that doesn’t make it easy to do what he did. He’s playing great.”

    Spencer Steer
    Steer, who had a nine-game hitting streak end on Saturday, helped put the game away with a two-out, two-run homer to left field on a first-pitch fastball from lefty reliever Brandon Hughes in the sixth inning.

    The rookie Steer is batting .386 over his last 13 games with five doubles and two homers. His seven homers lead the club.

    “We found our identity early on in Spring Training,” Steer said. “We’re going to outwork teams, we’re going to play hard and to the last out. I think we’ve kind of run with that this year. ”

    It’s not just younger players but veterans are also contributing.

    Utility player Kevin Newman started at second base, reached base five times and had a 13-pitch plate appearance in the fifth inning result in a bases-loaded walk to add another run.

    Nick Senzel notched two RBI hits, a single in the second inning and a double in the seventh. Senzel has 23 RBIs in 30 games since April 24.

    “It’s fun. We’re going up there and fighting for each other,” Newman said. “Next player up mentality. You can feel the energy, competitiveness, grit and fight. That’s one-through-nine or even the guys who aren’t starting.”

    The offense picked up Ashcraft, who showed improvement after struggling in his last four starts. In the bottom of the second with a 2-0 lead, he was one strike from a scoreless inning before Patrick Wisdom hit his cutter over the middle for a three-run homer, the only runs he’d allow.

    “When you’ve got these guys doing things like that, they’re setting us up for success,” Ashcraft said. “Knowing the guys had my back, all I had to do was battle and pitch and throw my stuff and compete. It helps a lot.”



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