By HAL McCOY
The Los Angeles Dodgers, besieged by injuries, mostly to the pitching staff, are a poor shell of the team that won the National League pennant last year.
Nevertheless, give the Cincinnati Reds a shovel full of credit for taking full advantage of a strong situation in their favor.
Led by another outstanding pitching performance by Luis Castillo, the Reds completed a four-game sweep of the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium, a 5-3 victory that pushed their winning streak to six straight.
It was the Reds first six-game winning streak in five years and the first time they’ve swept four games from the Dodgers since 1976, the salad days of The Big Red Machine.
Through the team’s early struggles after interim manager Jim Riggleman replaced fired manager Bryan Price, Riggleman kept saying, “We will put this together and we will start winning and make some noise in the National League Central. This team is too good.”
And the noise level is at a high decibel right now.
Castillo held the Dodgers to three runs that included solo home runs by Yasiel Puig, and Yasmani Gradal, and four hits over six-plus innings, walking none and striking out seven.
But when his pitch-count reached 100, Castillo weakened in the seventh. He gave up a leadoff home run to Grandal and a single to Cody Bellinger and his day was over.
Austin Brice replaced Castillo and coaxed a ground ball out of Matt Kemp, but shortstop Jose Peraza made a throwing error trying to get a force out at second base, putting runners on first and third.
Chris Taylor grounded to second for an out, but a run scored to make it 5-3 with one out and a runners on second. Amir Garrett arrived on the scene and struck out Max Muncy and induced a weak ball to first baseman Joey Votto to end the threat.
For the four games, the dysfunctional Dodgers scored a total of seven runs.
After leaving the bases loaded with one out in the first inning against LA starter Rich Hill, Billy Hamilton beat a two-out bunt in the second, then stole second and stole third, but was left there.
The Reds broke through in the third when Alex Blandino reached on first baseman Cody Bellinger’s error and a home run by Eugenio Suarez, who was 2 for 12 with one RBI in the first three games of the series.
Puig homered into the left field pavilion leading off the third, cutting the Reds lead to 2-1.
The Reds, though, got back-to-back one-out singles in the fourth by Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza. Manager Jim Riggleman, who loves to push the envelope, flashed the suicide squeeze play and Alex Blandino executed it perfectly with a bunt to the first base side and Hamilton scored standing up for a 3-1 Reds lead.
The lead ballooned to 5-1 in the when Blandino singled with two outs and Joey Votto hit one over the right field wall for a two-run home run.
Then came an LA uprising.
Garrett pitched 1 2/3s perfect innings with four strikeouts and closer Raisel Iglesias finished it off with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Three regulars sat this one out — Scooter Gennett, who had 10 hits in the first three games, Jesse Winker and Tucker Barnhart. The Reds collected nine hits and stranded 11 runners, but Castillo and the bullpen kept the Dodgers quiet on five hits.
The Reds take their torrid act up the coast to San Francisco for three games and they’ll face a Giants team also ravaged by injuries and struggling.