CINCINNATI — Before this weekend's four games with the Chicago Cubs, someone asked Bryan Price what he would consider a successful series.
The implication was clear: being competitive, getting a split, would be some sort of moral victory after the way the Cubs handled the Reds in Chicago.
The Reds manager would have none of it.
“We want to win the series,” Price said.
That’s impossible after the Cubs won the first two by a combined score of 24-1.
So the original question remains pertinent: Can the Reds play a good, competitive series with the Cubs this year?
They have been in one of five games so far. They lost the first game of last week's series in Chicago 5-3. Since then, it’s been 9-2, 8-1, 16-0 and 8-1. We’ll add it up for you: The Cubs have outscored the Reds 46-7 this year.
While Price talked about winning the series before it started, it's clear now that some pitchers aren’t so confident.
“I think we’re giving (the Cubs) a little too much credit,” he said. “That’s the problem when you get in trouble with a team like this. You give them way too much credit. You give them way too many pitches. You see where their walks are.
“. . . I used to see that in the American League whenever teams played New York or Boston. They had an understanding of the strike zone. They didn’t expand early. Then teams pitched them as if every guy was going to hit the ball out of ballpark. That’s not baseball.”
Jon Moscot, Friday’s starter, gave up four runs in three hits. Four walks had a lot to do with that.
Friday’s game was relatively competitive until deposed closer J.J. Hoover entered in the ninth. He allowed four runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning to turn a 4-1 game into 8-1. His ERA is 19.50.
Hoover has options, but Price dismissed the notion of sending Hoover down to Triple-A to get straightened out.
Since last year, the Cubs have beaten the Reds eight straight times.
It wasn’t so long ago that the opposite was true and the Reds dominated the Cubs. The Reds won five straight season series before losing last year’s series 13 games to six.
The Reds are rebuilding now like the Cubs were then. The Cubs' rebuilding worked. They made the National League Championship Series last year and are among the favorites to win the World Series this year. They’ve added some high-priced free agents to a young core.
Bottom line, no one expects the Reds to finish within shouting distance of the Cubs. But the Reds have to do better than they’ve done. Getting blown out nightly is unacceptable.
“Look, they have a nice club,” Price said. “They can hit the ball out of the ballpark. But in order to hit a home run, you’ve got to get a good pitch to hit. They’re not digging a pitch down and away or on their hands. . . They’re hitting pitches that are mistakes, typically later in the count.
"Give them credit. They don’t expand the zone early. That’s how they’ve evolved as a club. The rules of pitching have not changed. You’ve got to throw strikes to get ahead in the count.”
Until the Reds pitchers do that against the Cubs, the ugly losses are likely to continue.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.