Russell, Bryant fielding miscues loom large in Cubs’ loss to Reds

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For the Sun-Times

If the Cubs are playing in October, mark a four-game series from early May as the turning point in the season.

The Cubs were hovering at .500 before that pivotal series against the National League East-leading New York Mets and licking their wounds from a 3-7 stretch.

“I think the series against the Mets helped a lot mentally,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They came in here doing well, and we faced a lot of good pitching. We won some close games and then did pretty well against Kansas City in some hard-fought games.

“The series against the Mets, I like to believe, told our guys something about us.”

It was the Cubs’ first series sweep of the year and started a six-game winning streak that moved them six games above .500.

They were at that pinnacle again until they fell Friday to the Cincinnati Reds 5-4 in 10 innings before 40,016, the largest crowd of the season.

The Cubs’ record dropped to 32-27, but they still are a playoff-caliber team in their manager’s mind.

“We didn’t execute totally today, but I’m extremely happy with the effort,” Maddon said.

Mistakes from rookies Addison Russell and Kris Bryant were costly.

Russell bobbled a seemingly routine grounder on the first chance of the game, opening a three-run first inning for the Reds. Two runs were unearned.

Bryant’s fielding miscue in the 10th allowed leadoff batter Todd Frazier (2-for-5, home run, two RBI, three runs) to reach. He scored on Eugenio Suarez’s single past a drawn-in infield for another unearned run.

In between, the Cubs rallied to tie the score with two runs in the second and a two-run homer in the sixth from Starlin Castro.

“Here’s my take: If we play that way every game, I’ll accept that,” Maddon said. “As they [Russell and Bryant] gain more experience, those mistakes will go away.

“If we continue to play that way, we’ll get into the playoffs.”

Maddon had talked earlier about the rookie infielders learning how to play in the majors, with Russell transitioning to second base.

“People don’t know how difficult that is,” Maddon said.

“That ball took a tough hop on Addy,’’ starter Jason Hammel said. “I’m trying to continue to make pitches, but I was out of sync today, just fighting myself.”

Hammel lasted only five innings, while Reds starter Johnny Cueto worked seven. He struck out nine and allowed four runs and seven hits.

The Cubs’ bullpen was spotless from the sixth to the ninth, with Zac Rosscup, James Russell, Jason Motte and Pedro Strop combining to allow just one walk.

Hector Rondon (3-1) took the loss, giving up two singles after Bryant’s error.

Aroldis Chapman gave up a walk in the 10th but earned his 13th save.

The flip side for Russell and Bryant is that both contributed at the plate. Russell had an RBI double in the second, and Bryant went 2-for-4 with a run scored.

Russell also was in the middle of a ninth-inning threat that could have ended the game. He drew a two-out walk from J.J. Hoover (5-0), putting men at first and third with two outs. But Dexter Fowler flied out to end the inning.

Earlier in the inning, Reds right fielder Jay Bruce kept his team alive with a diving catch of a ball off Jonathan Herrera’s bat that would have scored Chris Coghlan from second.

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