CHICAGO -- This isn't how the Cubs were supposed to play after the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Oh sure, they were expected to struggle. And they have, losing 11 of their last 12 games, the latest coming in a 3-0 defeat at the hands of right-hander Johnny Cueto and the Reds on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Even though the Cubs dealt right-hander Ryan Dempster and left-hander Paul Maholm -- and are without righty Matt Garza indefinitely because of injury -- the pitching has continued to be the backbone of the team.
Rookie left-hander Brooks Raley was the latest to turn in an impressive outing Sunday, tossing a quality start in his second career outing. Raley's quality start was one of three by Cubs pitchers in the four-game series against the first-place Reds. Chicago won Thursday's opener before dropping the final three games.
"You can say what you want, but our starters have actually done a pretty good job since the Trade Deadline," manager Dale Sveum said. "We've just stopped hitting."
The Cubs have averaged 2.4 runs per game in the 12 games since July 31. They hit a little better during the four-game series with the Reds -- getting a big home run from Alfonso Soriano on Thursday and scoring eight runs in a comeback attempt Friday -- but they still have been unable to back their pitching.
On Sunday, it was Cueto (15-6, 2.45 ERA) who shut out the Cubs -- the 11th time this season they've been blanked -- allowing multiple runners to reach base only in the second and sixth innings.
Rookie center fielder Brett Jackson singled and Steve Clevenger drew a walk to begin the Cubs' first scoring threat. Raley put down a sacrifice burn on the left side, but Cueto fielded it, wheeled and fired to third to nab the lead runner. The right-hander struck out David DeJesus and got Darwin Barney to fly out to end the inning.
Pinch-hitter Adrian Cardenas and DeJesus led off the sixth with consecutive singles, but a fielder's choice groundout by Barney erased DeJesus at second and first baseman Anthony Rizzo grounded into an inning-ending double play.
"I felt like I was locating my pitches away well, so when I got into [those situations], I thought, 'OK, this is a double-play situation for me, I've got to get it done,'" Cueto said.
The right-hander equaled his season low by allowing only three hits.
"Sori's home run is the only home run we hit this series, so it's tough to get things going, especially today off Cueto, one of the best starters in the game," Sveum said. "We're not getting a whole lot going, and unfortunately, the days we did score six and eight runs, we came up short in those games on the pitching side of it."
Raley, a rookie left-hander making his second career start, matched Cueto through four-plus innings, retiring the first 13 batters he faced. That streak came to a screeching halt in the fifth, however, when the Reds rattled off three straight hits.
Todd Frazier knocked Cincinnati's first hit with a single to left before Jay Bruce hit his 22nd homer of the year into the right-field seats.
Miguel Cairo followed with a double and stole third before Raley walked Ryan Hanigan to put runners on the corners with one out, but the young southpaw got out of the jam thanks to a sacrifice bunt and groundout.
"Nothing changed. Frazier, I thought, hit a good pitch and then you make a 2-0 mistake to Bruce and he makes you pay," Raley said of the fifth. "It's part of the game and, obviously, I'm still learning."
Raley (0-2, 9.00) also allowed a solo homer to Ryan Ludwick in the sixth inning, but exited after allowing only five hits.
Right-handers Manuel Corpas, Shawn Camp and Carlos Marmol each worked an inning of scoreless relief.
"Couple fly balls that went out that weren't even hit that good," Sveum said. "He kept the ball down with his movement, had great command, a lot more life on his ball today. Far and above what we needed out of him. He did a great job, as well as the rest of the bullpen."
Now the Cubs welcome Houston to town for a three-game series. The Astros are a team in a similar rebuilding mode as the Cubs -- and also don't possess a pitching staff like the Reds'.
"They're in first place for one reason. They have very good pitching and have a very good bullpen," Soriano said. "We're struggling to score some runs, but we start tomorrow another series against Houston, and hopefully we have a better chance tomorrow to win."