CINCINNATI -- The Reds sit three games below .500 this season and yet know they could be doing better than treading water. If they tried to count the games that could have turned in their favor and didn't, they'd already be out of fingers.
Tuesday's 2-1 Reds loss to the Padres in their three-game-series opener came on a Chase Headley home run off of Aroldis Chapman in the top of the ninth inning. But it really underscored what has plagued this club all season. Cincinnati leads the Majors with 12 one-run defeats.
It was also the sixth time the Reds' pitching staff held an opponent to two runs or fewer in a loss. This is the second time it's happened on starter Mike Leake's watch after a fantastic performance on his end. Leake allowed one run and two hits over eight innings for a no-decision.
"Those ones are the ones we are very upset about as a team, because we know we're better," Reds catcher Brayan Pena said. "We know our pitching staff is doing a tremendous job, especially our starters. They're doing a tremendous job to give us a chance to win ballgames. Especially a guy like Leake, he came in and gave us more than we asked for -- eight strong innings and one run -- and we just couldn't hit for him today. We know we have to play better offensively. We know that we have to pick it up."
Leake, who walked one, hit two batters and struck out five, is winless over his last five starts. That stretch includes two of his three eight-inning starts this season.
Overall in eight starts and 58 1/3 innings -- whicht ranks fourth in the National League -- Leake is 2-3 with a 3.09 ERA.
"He doesn't have anything to show for it but the innings," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "That to me says more than anything. We're going to want to win every game that he throws when he gives us seven or eight quality innings like he has. If he can maintain this type of consistency, you'll look at a spectacular season of well over 200 innings, but giving us a chance to win on a regular basis is what makes me happy. The tide will turn."
The Reds pounced first on Padres starter Andrew Cashner, when Billy Hamilton led off the bottom of the first with a triple to the left-field corner. Hamilton scored on the first of Brandon Phillips' three hits to make it 1-0. Joey Votto followed Phillips with a drive off the right-field wall, but he was thrown out at second base when Seth Smith quickly snatched up the carom.
"We're preaching to be aggressive early in the game. We're trying to create more scoring opportunities," Price said. "Joey busting his tail to get into scoring position is something we encourage. It was an unbelievable throw to second base by Seth Smith to get Joey."
Cashner did a nice job to keep the Reds from doing more damage the rest of the night. In the fourth inning, Todd Frazier led off with a double to extend his hitting streak to 12 games, but he was left stranded. In the sixth, Cincinnati had the bases loaded with one out before Chris Heisey grounded to Cashner for a fielder's-choice play at home. Zack Cozart followed with a soft popup to first base to end the inning.
The Reds -- who have now lost four of their last six games -- were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight on base.
San Diego evened the game in the fourth inning when Smith led off with a double to left field and eventually scored from third base on Jedd Gyorko's sacrifice fly to right field.
"They manufactured a run off me, and there was nothing I could have really done in that situation," Leake said. "They did a good job getting that guy in. I was just trying to make pitches and let the defense work."
Leake went on to retire his final 14 of 15, and he got some assists defensively. Votto had a nice diving stop, while Phillips also made some good picks at second base. With 107 pitches after the eighth, Leake gave way to Chapman.
"We have to score runs to win, but me personally, I love defense behind me, and today was a good display of it," Leake said.
Chapman began the ninth inning of a 1-1 game and notched strikeouts of Smith and Carlos Quentin -- both on 101-mph fastballs. Facing Headley with a 1-1 count, Chapman's 99-mph fastball drifted up in the strike zone and was pulled toward the left-field corner inside the foul pole for the game-deciding homer.
"He's one of those guys that if you're able to get the barrel to it, he's throwing so hard that it really supplies some power for you," Headley said. "I was just trying to get on top of a fastball, so fortunately, I hit it well enough and it went out."
It was Chapman's second game back for Cincinnati. He he missed eight weeks after being hit in the face by a line drive during Spring Training. On Sunday, he earned the save in his season debut vs. the Rockies.
The way Leake pitched, Chapman could have very well been seeking save No. 2 -- had the offense picked him up.
"It's not the start we envisioned. We're not hitting on all cylinders yet," Price said of his club. "However, the starting pitching is showing up and getting better. It's giving us a chance to win almost every night. That's going to pay dividends. It really will."