Red-hot bats, Finnegan's gem power victory

Red-hot bats, Finnegan's gem power victory

CINCINNATI -- A day after nabbing sole possession of the second National League Wild Card spot, the Cardinals hardly asserted themselves as a ready postseason participant while wrapping up a 10-game road trip. Instead, they succumbed quietly in the rubber game of a three-game set in Cincinnati, where the Reds knocked around Mike Leake and rode six scoreless innings from Brandon Finnegan to roll to a 7-0 victory on Thursday afternoon.

Finnegan held the Cardinals to two hits -- both singles -- before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth. It was the second consecutive six-inning start with no runs allowed for Finnegan, who improved his season record to 7-8 with his second career victory over the Cardinals.

"I know I didn't have my best, but I was commanding the ball well," Finnegan said. "Even when you don't have your good stuff, that's the key, that's been the key for me all year, is to command all my pitches. And they hit some balls hard, but we had guys right there to catch them. Without the defense, I'd be pretty bad today."

He had more than ample support from an offense that was keyed by the bottom half of the order. Brandon Phillips tallied three hits from the fifth spot and scored after each as the three spots behind him combined to go 5-for-10 with five RBIs. Eugenio Surarez drove in two, and Ramon Cabrera had the first three-RBI game of his career.

Cabrera's run-scoring single

With the loss, the Cardinals fell back into a tie with the Marlins for the second Wild Card position. The Dodgers sit 2 1/2 games ahead of both clubs in that race. The Cardinals now trail the Cubs by a 9 1/2-game margin in the NL Central.

"This was a tough trip," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose club went 5-5 during stops in New York, Miami and Cincinnati. "A couple games like this one and [the 11-0 loss] in Miami you'd like to throw out the window. But you're going to have those. … I like the atmosphere of our club. I like the way the guys are playing. Days like these you just can't take too much out of."

Cards' starting pitching needs to right ship

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Almost perfect: Just two plays separated Finnegan from a perfect six innings. The game opened with an error from Suarez that was later changed to a single, and then Peralta hit the then-no-hitter-ending single. With six more today, Finnegan extends his scoreless-innings streak to 12. He's allowed six hits during the streak. Finnegan was lifted after 79 pitches for a pinch-hitter with two men on and no outs in the bottom of the sixth.

Finnegan's impressive outing

"I saw an ability to make good pitches, especially when he was behind in the count," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Finnegan. "He fell behind on a few hitters and was able to make a good pitch. It was the best slider that I've seen him have since he's been with us here in Cincinnati." More >

Walk this way: Leake's 36-inning streak without issuing a walk ended when Adam Duvall drew a free pass in the sixth. That set up a four-run frame for the Reds, who knocked Leake out of the game while pulling away. Leake's walk-free streak, which dated back to June 30, was the longest in the Majors this season. He struck out 33 batters during the stretch.

3-for-Phillips: Phillips went 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base. In his 20 games since July 6, Phillips is hitting 27-for-78 with nine RBIs and 10 runs scored, recording at least one hit in 18 of those games. Phillips is, however, on a 71-game stretch without a homer, the longest drought of his career.

Phillips' run-scoring double

Too far in: The decision by Matheny to play the infield in with one out and two runners in scoring position in the second hurt first baseman Brandon Moss' chances at cutting off Cabrera's sharp ground ball down the first-base line. Once it got past Moss, two runs scored easily to give the Reds an early lead.

QUOTABLE
"He was throwing good. They had three balls on the barrel. I think that sometimes we talk about innings or number of pitches, and sometimes you've just got to go, the pitcher has to pass the smell test, and after six on a hot day for a kid who's starting to stockpile innings, I thought he was done." -- Price, on pulling Finnegan after 79 pitches

"I still think I'm improving. I don't look too far into things. I just try to get better every time I'm out there, and if it's giving up seven runs, it's giving up seven runs. I think there are times you feel really good and you give up seven. And I think there are times you feel really bad and you give up zero." -- Leake, who has allowed 19 earned runs over his past three starts

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With the win, the Reds have won six straight series for the first time since 1999.

"It's been a good run really since Chicago before the break, with that little hiccup in Miami," Price said. "Since then, it's been winning series and playing good ball, playing better defense, pitchers throwing strikes, a little bit deeper with some of our starts, which really helps the bullpen and getting healthier. A lot of good things are happening."

EARLY EXIT
In the bottom of the sixth, Reds right fielder Scott Schebler was hit in the knee by a pitch from Leake. Schebler was checked out by trainers but was kept in the game. In the next at-bat, Schebler went first-to-third on a double from Suarez and eventually came around to score, but when the top of the seventh came, Schebler was removed as part of a double switch, with Tyler Holt taking over in right field. After the game, Schebler said he's improved significantly and should be able to play on Friday.

Schebler hit, but remains in

"Right on the knee, they said there's a nerve there, just like the funny bone, kind of just was tingling, and then I couldn't put any pressure," Schebler said. "As I moved around, it got better and better. I think it was just a precautionary thing to come out of the game, and [we] definitely want somebody in right that can run instead of somebody hobbling around. I should be good to go."

WHAT'S NEXT
Cardinals: The Cardinals will welcome back Matt Carpenter on Friday as they open up a three-game home series against the Braves. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CT. Left-hander Jaime Garcia, this time pitching on extra rest, will start the series opener. He's been unable to finish six innings in any of this past three starts.

Reds: The Reds begin a three-game series against the Pirates with Anthony DeSclafani on the mound for a 7:05 p.m. ET first pitch. DeSclafani, coming off of a six-inning, one-run performance against San Diego, has eight quality starts in 10 appearances this season.

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Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.

Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.