CHICAGO -- The Reds dropped their fifth game in a row on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, which is the most they've lost consecutively all season.
However, that's not what's eating at them most after getting out to a two-run lead in the first inning, blowing a later two-run lead and then dropping the game, 5-3, after allowing key two-out hits by Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano.
Castro's two-run double off Reds starter Mike Leake tied it at 3 in the sixth, which set the stage for Soriano's two-run blast to center field in the eighth off reliever Logan Ondrusek. Both big hits came after walks drawn by Cubs rookie Anthony Rizzo.
"That was huge," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Castro's game-tying double to center. "Like I told him after the game, 'It's not how many hits you get, it's when you get them, especially when you're in that spot, in the fifth spot in the order.' "
The Reds just haven't gotten those kinds of clutch hits lately, which is making their pitching staff have to be perfect in order to win -- which hasn't happened in the first four games of this road trip that started on Monday in Milwaukee.
"Untimely walk to Rizzo [in the sixth] and both times he walked, both times he scored," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's been a tough stretch these last five days, especially when you're losing them late."
It's not just a pitching or defense issue. It's also a lack of clutch hitting with runners in scoring position plus a general failure to do the "little things" all managers say are crucial to winning.
After rain delayed the start of the game for 1 hour and 20 minutes, the Reds (66-46) weren't able to build off a 2-0 lead they established in the first inning after a leadoff homer by Zack Cozart and another run tacked on against Cubs starter Chris Volstad, who came into the game with an 0-8 record and 7.22 ERA.
Todd Frazier's leadoff homer to start the fourth was the last run the Reds scored, putting them up 3-1, but it wasn't their only chance to keep adding to the lead. A prime opportunity in the sixth was squandered after Frazier's leadoff double, when Miguel Cairo couldn't get a bunt down to sacrifice him to third and wound up grounding sharply back to Volstad.
That hung Frazier up between second and third, and the Reds couldn't get anything else going. They also had runners at first and third with two outs in the fifth but saw the threat end when Jay Bruce struck out.
They finished 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
"We scored early and kind of cruised for a while, and when you do that you know any team is going to make a run," Cozart said. "They got a couple big hits by Castro and Soriano, and we didn't. It's one of those things. [We've lost] five in a row, and we've got to come back [Friday] and play hard again and figure out a way to win."
Baker put it another way.
"We've just got to tighten up the game, tighten up the small things in the game like getting runners in from third," he said. "It's just little things that cause you to either win or lose ballgames. We've got to tighten up our game."
Brandon Phillips led the way offensively for the Reds, going 3-for-4, while Frazier added two hits including his 14th homer. It just wasn't enough to put the upstart Cubs away on a rain-soaked night at the Friendly Confines.
"As an offense, we get up early and we've got to find a way to put 'em away," Cozart said. "When you're pitching and you know you're close the whole time, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense and the pitcher. It makes it a lot harder. As an offense we've got to come out here and put up more runs more consistently. When we get a lead, make it a bigger lead."
They've found out recently what happens when they can't.
After going 22-3 from July 6 to Aug. 4, the Reds have now dropped these last five games -- maintaining their 2 1/2-game lead in the National League Central over the Pirates, who lost to the D-backs on Thursday -- and seem mired in a rut where every little thing that goes wrong gets magnified. The only way to fix it is to pick up the level of play all around and get back to winning games.
Considering what the Reds have done on the winning side already this year, they're not going to panic about one small skid.
"I don't think these games should really make a difference," said Leake, who posted a quality start by allowing three earned runs in six innings. "You're going to have losing streaks. If we're dwelling on this, there's a problem. We didn't go [22-3] for no reason, so there's no reason we should dwell on this."
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.