Reds close out season with a victory

Reds close out year with a win

CINCINNATI -- Whether the Reds finished with 71 wins or 72 was immaterial in the big picture.

But going out with an 8-4 win over the Cubs on Sunday was certainly better than the alternative. Cincinnati snapped a season-high seven-game losing streak and a streak of 20 scoreless innings to finish 72-90 and in fifth place in the National League Central Division.

Interim manager Pete Mackanin also got to close out 2007 in victorious fashion and with a winning record of 41-39. Mackanin needed one win all week, and it was tough to get with injuries forcing out most of the lineup's regulars.

"Just for me, it felt good to finish with a winning record," Mackanin said. "It really won't determine whether I get the job or not, but you always want to go out a winner."

If Mackanin does return next season, he'll already have gotten a sense of what two of the team's brightest prospects are capable of after watching Joey Votto and pitcher Homer Bailey this month.

Votto was 2-for-4 with a home run and five RBIs. Bailey settled down after early turbulence to allow four earned runs and eight hits over 5 2/3 innings with four walks and five strikeouts.

"It was nice to finish up that way," Votto said.

The rookie batted .321 with four homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games since his Sept. 4 callup. Although he played left field on Sunday, he is expected to vie for the starting first baseman's job in 2008.

Having already clinched the NL Central, the Cubs removed most of their regulars by the fourth inning. But not before they jumped out to a 4-0 lead against Bailey.

Alfonso Soriano went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and led off the game with a home run to left field off Bailey. Soriano added a two-out RBI single in the second inning, and Jacque Jones hit a two-out RBI double in the third.

"I just couldn't find a rhythm there," Bailey said. "I didn't have much working for me, so I tried to slow everything down instead of trying to air it out. I don't have a fastball today, so here's a changeup, here's a curveball. Now there's my fastball. I tried to mix my speeds instead of trying to blow it by people."

"Homer threw very well," Mackanin said. "He started off shaky and made some bad pitches. But he got his velocity up later in the game. That was good to see. It looked like he was in better control the last few innings he pitched. I'm happy he ended on a positive note. He's got work to do, there's no doubt about it. He's shown a lot of promise, and I think things bode well for the future."

Bailey, Cincinnati's 2004 first-round pick, will head to Spring Training next season with a chance to win a rotation spot. The 21-year-old right-hander went 4-2 with a 5.76 ERA in nine big league starts, including three games since he returned to the club on Sept. 20 following a long rehab from a groin injury.

"Nothing is penciled in," Bailey said. "There are a lot of names that will be filled in for those three spots that are open. I'll be as ready as I can. When we start Spring Training, I'll be fighting for that job just like a bunch of people."

Batting .199 over its previous seven games with mostly backups playing, the Reds started just one player from the Opening Day lineup on Sunday -- Edwin Encarnacion.

Chicago starter Ted Lilly retired all six batters he faced in a postseason tuneup as Cincinnati extended its scoreless inning streak in the series to 20. It snapped when Jason Marquis took over for the third and the Reds sent nine men to the plate.

A leadoff single by Jason Ellison accounted for the Reds' first hit and matched the total from Saturday's game. In a two-out rally, Ryan Hanigan notched his first big league RBI with a single that scored Ellison.

Votto followed with a two-run double, and after a walk, Jorge Cantu hit an RBI single that tied the game.

There were also two outs in the fourth when Hanigan drove in Pedro Lopez with an RBI single. Next was Votto, who launched a three-run home run to right field against reliever Ryan Dempster (2-7).

"It wasn't pretty when I made out the lineup," Mackanin said. "On the other hand, the Cubs were getting ready for the postseason. It really was a different type of game. I just called to congratulate [Cubs manager Lou Piniella] and said, 'I think you panicked going to your closer in the fourth inning.' He kind of got a kick out of that."

Start the countdown. There are 182 days remaining until Opening Day 2008.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.