CINCINNATI -- The Indians were great out of the gates, but limped to the finish line. That was the case last season and it was the way things went on this road trip. It was also what took place in the Tribe's latest tumble in the Queen City.
On Thursday, Shin-Soo Choo opened an afternoon tilt with the Reds with a towering leadoff home run at Great American Ball Park. It was the first of two blasts for Choo, but it also proved to be little more than a tease for the Indians in a 12-5 rout that finished off a three-game sweep at the hands of Cincinnati.
"You hit two homers. Good," Choo said. "But, for me and for everybody, when we lose, especially like in this situation, trying to catch first place, when you lose three games straight, that's not a good thing."
The National League Central-leading Reds abused Cleveland pitching throughout the opening act in this season's two-part Ohio Cup clash. The latest victims included starter Josh Tomlin and rookie lefty Scott Barnes, and the role of villain was shared once again by sluggers Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips.
"It feels good to sweep these guys," Phillips said. "They're a tough team. I feel like we got some key hits in key situations. I think that's the reason we won this series -- plus great pitching also."
The result was a three-game brooming in which the Indians (32-30) were outscored, 24-9, and out-hit, 37-26. The Tribe's offense went just 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position in the series, compared to a 12-for-39 showing by the Reds (35-27). Cleveland's rotation (6.00 ERA) and bullpen (12.00 ERA) were both battered.
It is a good thing that the Indians' flight home to Cleveland is short, because it will surely be quiet.
"That's not the way you wanted to finish a road trip," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "But, you've got to give them credit. They beat us on both sides of the ball. Their starters pretty much held our offense down and then they out-hit us, too."
It was a disappointing conclusion to a three-city trek through Detroit, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The Indians -- currently in second place in the American League Central -- took two out of three in each of their first two stops before running into the red-hot Reds.
Votto and Phillips, in particular, toyed with the Tribe all series, combining for four home runs, 13 hits and 13 RBIs in Cincinnati's three wins.
In Thursday's affair, Votto clubbed a 3-1 fastball from Tomlin in the first inning for his 12th homer of the season. The three-run blast went a long way in erasing Choo's homer half an inning earlier, pushing the Indians behind, 3-2. Phillips added a solo blast off Tomlin in the third and finished with four RBIs in the game.
"I felt like everything I was throwing up there, they were hitting," said Tomlin, who yielded six runs on 10 hits over four innings. "The pitches out of the zone that I was trying to get bad contact with, they were just letting them go. Other than that, everything I threw over the plate, they hit."
The beating continued against Barnes in the form of a five-run outpouring in the fifth inning.
Ryan Ludwick led Cincinnati's charge with a two-run homer off the lefty and Phillips later added a run-scoring single. Another run scored courtesy of catcher's interference by Lou Marson during a rundown between third base and the plate. Barnes also issued a walk with the bases loaded to help the Reds to an 11-3 advantage.
The in-state rivals will meet again in a three-game series that begins on Monday in Cleveland.
The Indians can only hope being back at home will net better results, though there were positives to be pulled from the most recent loss. Choo's multi-homer performance -- he torched pitches from Mike Leake for a blast in each of the first and fifth innings -- provided one. Michael Brantley's hitting streak offered another.
In the seventh inning, Brantley doubled against Reds reliever Alfredo Simon, extending the Indians center fielder's hitting streak to a career-high 21 games. That marked the longest streak in the Majors this season and the longest by a Cleveland hitter since Casey Blake's 26-game run in 2007.
Brantley's hit also afforded him a couple of innings off.
"That was nice, because we wanted to rest him," said Acta, who pulled the outfielder in the home half of the seventh. "But he's got that streak going, which is such a nice thing and special. I'm glad he was able to get it on that one, so I didn't have to keep him out there for nine innings.
"He continues to swing the bat good. That's one good thing going right now."
Hopefully, better things await the Tribe in Cleveland.
"It'll be good to go home," Tomlin said. "It's definitely not the way you want to end the road trip, but we had two good series before this. We would've liked to have a good series this series, but it just didn't happen."