CHICAGO (AP) — The run-deficient Chicago Cubs were in a deficit from the start.
Scott Schebler homered on the first pitch of the game and the Cincinnati Reds went on to beat the NL Central leaders 2-1 Sunday.
Despite the defeat and the Cubs’ recent offensive woes, their division lead stayed at 2 1/2 games over Milwaukee, which also lost.
Chicago, seeking its third straight Central title, scored just five runs in the three-game series and has totaled 15 runs in its last seven games.
“We have to do better than one run somehow,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The three games, we were fortunate to win two. I’ll take it. Whenever you win a series against a major league team, you’ll always take that.”
Joey Votto had three hits for last-place Cincinnati, which stopped its three-game losing streak and Chicago’s three-game winning streak.
Luis Castillo (10-12) allowed one run, four hits and four walks in 6 2/3 innings, giving up Albert Almora Jr.’s sacrifice fly in the fifth.
Amir Garrett and Jared Hughes combined for four outs and Raisel Iglesias pitched the ninth for his 27th save in 31 chances, completing a five-hitter.
“That’s the best three or four days of pitching that we’ve had,” Reds manager Jim Riggleman said.
Jose Quintana (13-10) was bidding for what would have been a career-high 14th win. Schebler drove a 93 mph fastball into the bleachers just left of the batter’s eye, and Phillip Ervin homered leading off the fourth.
“I got a pretty good swing on a ball,” Schebler said. “I’m just trying to make contact in this place. Historically, I’m pretty awful at Wrigley, so honestly, it was nice to but a barrel on a ball.”
Chicago’s Victor Caratini hit a sharper grounder down the line with runners on first and second in the bottom of the fourth. First base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called the ball foul as he unsuccessfully tried to jump out of the way.
Maddon wasn’t so sure the ball was foul. The play isn’t viewable, so he asked the umpires if they could get together and discuss it. They declined and the call stood.
Garrett escaped second-and-third, two-out trouble in the seventh when he relieved and struck out Anthony Rizzo, who slammed his helmet.
“Offense is peaks and valleys and you just ride it out,” Cubs star Kris Bryant said. “There have been plenty of times this year when the offense is great, and plenty of times when it wasn’t. We just have to ride it out and hope that the next game is the one where we explode.”
Willson Contreras doubled off the wall in center in the middle of the Cubs’ fifth-inning rally, but drew Maddon’s ire because he flipped his bat and stood watching the ball. He then had to bust it and dive head first into second base — and might have been out if the throw wasn’t off line.
“Horrible,” Maddon said. “I didn’t like that at all. That will be addressed.”
Said Contreras: “I thought it was gone. I hit it super good. What I did was not good for baseball, watching it. I embarrassed myself.”
Reds: RHP Robert Stephenson (shoulder tendinitis) is unlikely to be activated this season, according to Riggleman. Stephenson has been on the 10-day DL since Aug. 30.
Cubs: OF Jason Heyward (right hamstring tightness) was activated from the 10-day DL but did not play. ... INF Tommy La Stella was scratched about two hours before first pitch because of lower back tightness. ... LF Kyle Schwarber (back) missed his sixth straight game and didn’t accompany the team to Arizona for a three-game series starting Monday.
Reds: RHP Anthony DeSclafani (7-5, 4.80 ERA) starts the opener of a three-game series at Milwaukee on Monday night. LHP Wade Miley (4-2, 2.23) pitches for the Brewers.
Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (11-11, 3.71 ERA) takes the mound Monday night in the opener at Arizona. LHP Patrick Corbin (11-5, 3.05) starts for the Diamondbacks.