It was the ninth loss in the last 10 games for the Cubs, who committed five errors for the first time since booting six balls on Sept. 12, 2006, against the Dodgers.
"Not the prettiest game we've played all year, that's for sure," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who appeared to be more upset following Friday's loss than any other this season, and wasn't afraid to admit it.
"I'm a little upset today, yeah," Sveum said. "There were a few things that were taken for granted today. Some things aren't acceptable when you take things for granted. It wasn't just the baserunning blunder, either."
The baserunning blunder was Starlin Castro's in the sixth inning. But a lot more went wrong before then.
The third inning started innocently enough, when first baseman Anthony Rizzo couldn't corral Brandon Phillips' one-out grounder. Then, Ryan Ludwick hit a two-run homer to center.
Xavier Paul singled and Todd Frazier struck out before the Cubs' left side of the infield made consecutive two-out errors. Wilson Valdez hit a hard shot to third that ricocheted off rookie Josh Vitters, and then Castro capped the three-error frame by letting Devin Mesoraco's ground ball go through his legs to bring in a run.
In the sixth, Cincinnati's Drew Stubbs attempted to steal second after a leadoff single ... and ended up scoring. Catcher Welington Castillo's throw went by everybody -- including rookie center fielder Brett Jackson -- as Stubbs scored. Castillo was charged with a throwing error and Jackson with a fielding miscue on the play.
"We've played pretty good defense all season long," Sveum said. "Sometimes those kinds of things happen."
"Ugly game for the defense today," Castro said. "The offense was pretty good today, but you can't win a game like that."
The physical mistakes turned mental in the bottom of the sixth, when Castro led off with a single. He attempted to steal second, but Vitters singled to right. Castro was deked by Phillips and didn't immediately round second because Phillips acted like he had the ball. By the time Castro realized he had been fooled and took off, the Reds' relay throw easily nabbed him at third.
Castro said afterward he hadn't yet talked to Sveum, who said he planned to talk to the shortstop after his latest mental lapse.
"Yeah, he was decoyed," Sveum said. "But if you're going to steal a base five runs down, you better [darn] well know where the ball's hit."
When asked if he would consider giving Castro a break from the starting lineup, Sveum said he'd think about it.
Castro rebounded with a two-run double in the seventh, and the rest of the team responded, as the Cubs scored twice more in the eighth on RBI doubles by Castillo and David DeJesus. But the rally was never completed, as Reds closer Aroldis Chapman struck out Rizzo with the tying run on third to end the eighth and blanked the Cubs in the ninth to convert his 26th save.
While the youngsters struggled, veteran Alfonso Soriano produced his second straight impressive game at the plate, driving in three runs. The first, in the opening inning, came on a fielder's-choice grounder to shortstop, while the others scored on a two-run double down the left-field line in the third.
Second baseman Darwin Barney had three hits, while Vitters went 1-for-5 in his Wrigley Field debut. Castillo had another RBI double to right field in the sixth that Paul misjudged in the 24-mph wind.
"There was a popup near second base that ended up 30 rows up in the stands [behind our dugout], and then the ball that Castillo hit, Paul was doing the Salsa and Meringue and La Cucaracha and everything else," said Reds manager Dusty Baker about the wind.
Frazier went 3-for-4 with a walk and four RBIs, while Reds starter Homer Bailey helped his cause with an RBI single in the second. The right-hander (10-7, 4.08 ERA) allowed four runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings to earn his career-high 10th win.
Cubs right-hander Justin Germano (1-2, 3.28 ERA) took the loss, giving up six runs (four earned) on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. He pitched well despite the three third-inning errors.
"It was an ugly game, and you go out there and try to pitch around errors and try to minimize the damage," Germano said. "That's the next-best thing you can do, just go out there and shut the team down."
Four of the Cubs' five errors were committed by rookies: Rizzo, Vitters, Castillo and Jackson. The other was by Castro, a 22-year-old shortstop. And although young players making mistakes is part of giving them the chance to develop at the big league level, Sveum isn't using that as an excuse for Friday's performance.
"That had nothing to do with being young today," Sveum said.