It took Aaron Harang six tries to win his 14th game. With Cincinnati’s playoff hopes quickly fading, the Reds cannot afford for him to take that long to win his 15th.
One day after suffering one of their worst losses of the season, the Reds send Harang to the mound Sunday as they continue a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs.
The Reds (75-79) have gone 8-18 since Aug. 24, when they were within a percentage point of first place in the NL Central. They are in third place in the division, 5 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals with eight games remaining.
The road to the wild card appears even tougher, as Cincinnati and San Francisco both are six games behind Philadelphia for that spot.
“When you’re playing for what we were playing for all year, and it’s no longer a goal, it’s deflating,” Reds first baseman Scott Hatteberg said. “I guess you can reassess your goals and go for a winner season, .500, or whatever.”
Cincinnati lost 11-4 on Saturday while committing six errors—the most by the Reds since April 5, 1971.
“It was ugly all around,” said starter Kyle Lohse, who allowed six runs in three innings.
While Lohse struggled, Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano allowed four runs in seven innings for his 16th win of the season. Zambrano also hit his sixth home run of the season, tying the franchise record for homers by a pitcher set by Ferguson Jenkins in 1971.
Saturday was the third time this year the Reds gave up at least 11 runs against Chicago. They allowed 11 last Sunday and gave up 16 in the season opener, when Harang (14-11, 3.91 ERA) made his only start against the Cubs (63-92) this season.
In his career, Harang is 4-1 with a 4.64 ERA in eight starts against Chicago. He allowed nine runs—six earned—and nine hits in five innings to lose 16-7 on April 3.
The right-hander won his 14th game of the season against Houston on Tuesday, allowing four runs and eight hits in 7 2-3 innings of a 5-4 win.
He had been 0-3 with a 4.72 ERA in his previous five starts.
“This late in the season you’re not going to be as sharp as you were in April and May,” Harang said. “It’s just the grind of September. You’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
The Cubs will counter with left-hander Sean Marshall (5-9, 5.64), who is 0-1 with a 9.72 ERA in his last four starts.
Marshall hasn’t lasted past the fourth inning in his last two outings, including on Monday against the Phillies when he pitched 3 1-3 innings, allowing six runs and five hits. He escaped without a decision, however, after the Cubs won 11-6.
“He just lost control of the strike zone, got behind and had to come in,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
The 24-year-old rookie has never faced the Reds.