Mackanin's run as interim manager got off to a 5-1 start heading into the All-Star break. But after Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Mets, Cincinnati had dropped two-straight games and lost the four-game series.
It's the first test for Mackanin. Can his optimistic approach help halt a skid and avoid the spiraling that frequently plagued the club under predecessor Jerry Narron?
"That's my challenge," Mackanin said. "Hopefully, I can do something about it."
Sunday's starter Kyle Lohse fell behind by a 3-0 score after two innings, and it was 5-1 after five. As has so often been the case this season, the Reds could not answer back.
Enduring an inconsistent season, Lohse (5-11) was 2-0 with one complete-game victory and a stellar 1.13 ERA in his final two starts before the break. That was nine days ago, but on Sunday, it seemed like ancient history.
"I do as much as I can to wear myself out when I know I'll have a long time in between [starts]," Lohse said. "It shouldn't be an excuse. It's my job to go out there and pitch. At the same time, it's foreign when you go out there after a long layoff. You try to get into sync."
In the Mets' second, after David Wright hit a leadoff single and Carlos Delgado walked, Ramon Castro smoked a ground-rule double to center field that scored Wright. Two batters later, with one out, two more runs scored on Lastings Milledge's double to right field, making it 3-0.
With the Reds trailing, 3-1, in the fifth, pitcher Oliver Perez lofted a leadoff single to left field. Next up was Jose Reyes, who hit a 3-2 fastball over the wall in right-center field for a two-run homer and a four-run Mets lead.
"[Those were] just some bad pitches," Mackanin said. "His stuff was OK, but the home run to Reyes wasn't located where he wanted to. He hung a curveball to Castro for the double, and he got too much of the plate on a fastball to Milledge. Those three incidents, they were the game."
"I didn't get away with much," concluded Lohse, who allowed five earned runs and six hits over just 4 2/3 innings, with three walks and three strikeouts.
Adam Dunn's booming solo home run off Perez (8-6) with two outs in the fourth provided Cincinnati's first run. Dunn's blast, his 25th, traveled 460 feet and ricocheted off the giant scoreboard in right-center field. It broke some of the light bulbs on the out-of-town scores portion of the board.
In the sixth, Norris Hopper's bunt for a leadoff single was followed by Jeff Conine's single. On Brandon Phillips' base hit to right field, Hopper ran through third-base coach Mark Berry's stop sign and scored to make it a three-run game. Chances for a bigger yield from the rally faded when Perez gathered himself and retired the rest of the side in order.
The Reds received 3 1/3 scoreless innings of bullpen work from Mike Gosling, Todd Coffey and Jon Coutlangus. They benefited from several nice defensive plays, especially those by rookie shortstop Pedro Lopez and Conine at first base.
All were ingredients that often lead to comebacks. Yet, the Reds went down quietly.
When it comes to dealing with game adversity, the Reds have had about as much success as the Washington Generals against the Harlem Globetrotters. Cincinnati is 2-38 this season when trailing after seven innings.
"In the past, in the late innings is when we would get good at-bats," Dunn said. "We're not doing that right now. It seems like everybody is trying to swing early in the count and try to make it happen in one swing."
"Maybe just slap a little single to right field instead of trying to hit a home run," Mackanin concurred. "[We need to] lay down a bunt or lean into a pitch and take one for the team -- gather some momentum."
Solving this issue could be one of the bigger portions of Mackanin's challenge. In the three losses to the Mets, Cincinnati scored three runs or fewer in each game and lost two of the games by one run.
It doesn't get any easier from here. The trip still has seven days to go and two cities left to visit.
Not long after Mets closer Billy Wagner secured save No. 20 with a flawless ninth, the Reds were on board one of those planes lifting off from LaGuardia, bound for Atlanta. Mackanin planned to use the flight to remind his players about the positive aspects of Sunday's game and to encourage them to build, build, build on them.
"In the last few innings [on Sunday], the guys were still in the mode where they were feeling like we were not going to win [the] game," Mackanin said. "It's a process. Certainly, that was one of the thoughts. 'If we lose two or three in a row, how do we snap out of it?' Prolonged slumps are what kill you, and we've had too many prolonged slumps. The quicker you can figure out how to get out of them, the better the team you are."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.