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‘Horrible’ play by Willson Contreras lowlight of Cubs’ loss to Reds

Willson Contreras tosses his bat as he watches his double against the Cincinnati Reds during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field on September 16, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Nearing the end of a difficult and rest-free stretch, the Cubs simply aren’t hitting. In the weekend series against the Reds, they scored only five runs.

But the moment that bothered manager Joe Maddon most during the Cubs’ 2-1 loss Sunday came on the bases, leading him to publicly and pointedly criticize a player.

After Addison Russell drew a one-out walk in the fifth inning, Willson Contreras pinch-hit for Jose Quintana and sent a towering drive to deep center field. Thinking it was a game-tying two-run home run, Contreras watched the ball and casually started walking to first base, then had to hustle to second when the ball hit the wall. Russell had stopped at second and made it to third, but he might have been able to score with a better read on the ball.

Maddon defended Russell, who eventually did score on a sacrifice fly by Albert Almora Jr., but showed no such generosity toward Contreras.

‘‘Horrible,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I didn’t like that at all, not at all. That will be addressed. The whole team didn’t like that.’’

Contreras thought the ball was gone but didn’t take into account that the wind was blowing in from the east for most of the day. He said the drive took him back to his first big-league homer in 2016, which went to the same part of the field.

But that ball two years ago went for a homer. This one didn’t, and Contreras was apologetic afterward.

‘‘I’m embarrassed of myself,’’ Contreras said.

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Luckily for the Cubs, neither the play nor their overall offensive woes cost them any ground in the National League Central race. The Brewers lost 3-2 to the Pirates, keeping the Cubs 2½ games ahead with two weeks left in the regular season.

The Cubs know their offense will have to start clicking soon. They’ll have to work their way around some bad luck, such as Victor Caratini’s sharp grounder down the first-base line with two men on in the fourth being called foul, and avoid baserunning miscues, such as Daniel Murphy getting thrown out while trying to stretch a single into a double in the eighth.

‘‘Overall, we’ve just got to be better,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘We’ve got to be better than one run somehow. The three games, we’re fortunate to win two. We really are.’’

The Cubs are 16-10 during their stretch of 30 days with a scheduled game. Their starting pitching has become a strength, and that continued with Quintana’s two-run outing against the Reds. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t combine Quintana’s effort with enough offense to complete a series sweep.

Still, third baseman Kris Bryant, who didn’t start but had a pinch-hit single, was thinking more about the two victories the Cubs earned than about any long-term offensive concerns.

‘‘If we had lost those two games, sure, it would be concerning,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘Obviously, you want to go out there and score a ton of runs, but our pitchers picked it up when we needed them.

‘‘Offense is peaks and valleys, and you just ride it out. There have been plenty of good times this year where the offense is great and plenty of bad times where it wasn’t. You’ve just got to ride it out and hope the next game is the one where we kind of explode.’’