McCoy: Braves expose Reds' offensive weaknesses in 2-0 series sweep

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

A win-filled September that lifted the hopes and aspirations for the Cincinnati Reds turned into a dizzyingly quick evacuation from the postseason.

Two and out. Two and done. Two and go home.

For the second straight day, the Reds were muzzled by Atlanta Braves pitching, a second straight shutout defeat, 5-0 Thursday, that sent the Reds scrambling for fishing rods and golf clubs.

In the process, the Reds set a dubious all-time record — the first team to go 22 straight innings without a run in post-season play.

Cincinnati’s weakness was firmly exposed by the Braves. The Reds' .212 season batting average and their reliance on the home run, 61 percent of their runs produced by home runs.

On Thursday they produced two hits, a single by Eugenio Suarez in the second and a single that bounced off the first-base bag by Freddy Galvis in the fifth.

Incredibly, the Braves scored only six runs in 22 innings and those six runs were good enough to give Atlanta its first playoff series win after losing its last 10.

For 20 of the 22 innings, Cincinnati pitching kept Atlanta off the scoreboard. But Atlanta pitching kept the Reds off the scoreboard in all 22 innings.

Four of those six runs came in Atlanta’s last at bat, a pair of two-run home runs by Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall in the bottom of the eighth against Raisel Iglesias that turned a 1-0 deficit into 5-0.

Just as Trevor Bauer pitched magnificently in Game 1, a 1-0 loss in 13 innings, Luis Castillo was on top of things in Game 2, giving up one run and six hits with seven strikeouts for 5 1/3 innings.

But the Reds were helpless against Atlanta’s splendiforous pitching.

On Wednesday it was Max Fried and the Braves bullpen throwing zeros at the Reds. On Thursday, it was rookie Ian Anderson, making just his sixth major league start, and the belligerent Braves bullpen piling up the zeros.

Anderson went six innings and gave up two hits in six innings and the bullpen retired the last nine Reds in order.

Dating back to 1995, when the Braves swept the Reds in four straight in the National League Championship Series, Atlanta pitchers threw 31 straight shutout innings at the Reds.

“No one feels like our guys in the clubhouse,” Reds manager David Bell said. "It’s not a good feeling, it’s a bad feeling and there are no words to make you feel better. You compete all year, you battle and you work, put everything you have into it, and you lose. There is no way to feel good about that.

“We were able to have some success, taste some real success and when we get to step back and reflect on the season, tasting that success is going to go a long way” he added.

It was more of the same for the Reds in the second inning ... put 'em on and leave 'em on.

They had two on with one out and the bases loaded with two outs before Anderson retired Tucker Barnhart on a ground ball to shortstop.

But unlike Game 1, when the Reds littered the bases with stranded runners, that second-inning threat was the only noise the Reds made in Game 2.

Joey Votto said before the series that the Reds would be a nightmare. He did not expect the nightmare to be how the Reds didn’t score.

Asked if he ever thought the team would play two games without scoring, he said, "No, I couldn’t imagine that. I know what I said going into the playoffs and both our starting pitchers showed it.

“We obviously didn’t do our part offensively,” he added. “Kudos to the Braves because I thought they were tenacious and steady. Their pitching was — I don’t want to say better than I thought because that would be disrespectul — but they were very good.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Braves broke through in the fifth on a two-out double by Ronald Acuna Jr., his third hit.

Nick Markakis singled with one out. Austin Riley hit into a fielder’s choice. Castillo was 3-and-2 on Acuna and shook off catcher Barnhart several times, then threw a slider without conviction and Acuna drove it to the center field wall, easily scoring Riley from the first base for a 1-0 lead.

Curt Casali is Castillo’s preferred catcher, but he was banged up in Game 1 and not available to take his normal squat behind the plate, although he did come in late in the game after a pinch-hitter was used in Barnhart’s spot.

Barnhart took the brunt of the blame for insisting on the slider.

“I felt it was the right pitch (slider),” said Barnhart. “That’s on me. But I felt if he executed the pitch we might get a wavy swing. It felt like the right pitch at the right time. He was late on the fastball and I thought a changeup might be doing him a favor.”

Travis d’Arnaud led off the sixth with a single and with one out Castillo was replaced by Lucas Sims and he retired two Braves quickly to leave it at 1-0.

Sims, traded to the Reds by the Braves for Duvall, was perfection. In 1 2/3s innings, he struck out four of the five hitters he faced.

Iglesias took the mound in the eighth and the game got away quickly. He walked Freeman and Ozuna, the league’s leading home-run hitter and RBI guy, deposited one into the left field seats and it was 3-0.

Iglesias had given up one home run during the regular season, but this one was devastating to the Reds chances to come back.

Adding insult to insult, third baseman Suarez dropped a pop foul hit by Ozzie Albies. Iglesias then walked Albies and gave up a 0-and-2 home run to Duvall to make it 5-0.

Before they faced Iglesias Thursday, Ozuna was 0 for 8 with five strikeouts and Duvall was 0 for 7 with six strikeouts.

Braves starter Anderson left after six innings of machine-efficient pitching — no runs, two hits, two walks, nine strikeouts.

And the magnificent Braves bullpen finished the deal — Will Smith, Chris Martin and Mark Melancon each retired three straight over the final three innings to put a dreadful end to the Reds' season.

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