CINCINNATI -- The Reds' stay in first place last Wednesday was about as brief as a 5-year-old's sleepover. Since then, times have suddenly gotten quite tough. In all but two innings on Tuesday, Johnny Cueto gave a stopper-type performance but it wasn't enough to stop a 4-3 loss to the Phillies. The Reds' season-high losing streak extended to four games and coming after being six games over .500, Cincinnati has slipped to 20-18. "You know it's going to happen sooner or later," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of the skid. "You don't like it when you're in the middle of it. We certainly have to bounce back [Wednesday]. We have no choice."
The losing streak is coming at a time when the first-place Brewers are on a roll, with seven straight wins that put fourth-place Cincinnati 4 1/2 games out in the National League Central standings. Coming off a one-run, four-hit effort where they had little chance against the Padres' Jake Peavy on Sunday, the Reds had ample chances vs. the Phillies. They were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left a runner stranded on second base in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. With one out in the bottom of the ninth against Phils closer Brad Lidge, Alex Gonzalez reached on an infield single when shortstop Jimmy Rollins couldn't cleanly field his sharply hit grounder. After pinch-hitter Laynce Nix drew a walk to put two on, Willy Taveras chased three full-count sliders, fouling off two before striking out. Jerry Hairston Jr. flied out to center field and ended the game. "Obviously, you want to get that big hit there," said Hairston, who led off the sixth with a homer against Phils starter Cole Hamels. "I took a pretty good pass at it, squared up and just got underneath the ball. It's just one of those things. The last four games obviously haven't gone our way. We have to turn the page. This team is pretty good at bouncing back so hopefully [Wednesday], it will be our day." Cincinnati's lineup seems adrift lately without contributions from some of its key players. Their best hitter, Joey Votto, has missed several games because of dizziness and there is no known date for his return. "We certainly need him," Baker said. "Our offense and our team aren't the same without him." Nor are they same when Taveras is struggling as the leadoff hitter. After his sensational 14-game hitting streak snapped over the weekend, Taveras is suddenly mired in a 0-for-19 funk. He was 0-for-5 Tuesday with three strikeouts. Still, Cueto gave the Reds a chance as he pitched seven innings and allowed four earned runs and seven hits without a walk and struck out four. It was the sixth straight start Cueto (4-2, 2.35) worked at least seven innings. Cueto retired the side in order during the first, third, fourth and sixth, but had his hands full in the second and fifth. Leading off the top of the second, Ryan Howard launched a 2-2 breaking pitch left over the plate for a homer to left-center field. Cueto gave up back-to-back one-out hits, but managed to escape further damage. Jay Bruce's team-leading 12th home run of the season, a solo shot into the right-field bullpen with two outs in the fourth, was the first sign of life for the Reds against Hamels (2-2). Bruce also struck out three times in the game. But there was a three-run Phillies fifth for Cueto. Pedro Feliz hit a leadoff double before Hamels hit a one-out single to left field. Feliz scored on Rollins' RBI double to right-center field and Hamels came home on Chase Utley's RBI single. A sacrifice fly by Raul Ibanez made it a 4-1 game. "Probably the biggest hit they got was the one by Hamels," Baker said. "That was the one that set up the first and third and helped create the big inning they had. Other than that, Johnny was outstanding." In the sixth after Hairston led off with a homer to left field, Brandon Phillips followed with a triple and later scored on Ramon Hernandez's sacrifice fly. Philadelphia's bullpen followed Hamels with three scoreless innings and prevented the late comeback. "We just couldn't get that hit," Baker said. "We were one hit away from tying or winning that game."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.