CHICAGO -- The air has turned cooler and the calendar reads September instead of August, but there has been a feeling of late that the dog days have set in on the Reds' lineup.
The offense has been slogging and notched only four hits in Tuesday's game. But it only took one clutch hit and Homer Bailey's superb pitching to secure a 3-1 win over the Cubs, which lowered the Reds' magic number to clinch the National League Central division to four. They could claim the division Thursday by completing a sweep of the Cubs, but they'd need the Cardinals to lose the last two games of their series with the Astros.
The Reds (89-59) also moved to within one game of the Nationals (89-57) for baseball's best record and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Washington's game vs. the Dodgers was rained out on Tuesday.
"We got just enough offense to win," said Reds manager Dusty Baker, who managed the 3,000th game of his career.
Cincinnati was 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded six, but that one hit was big. Ryan Hanigan hit a bases-loaded double that scored all three Reds runs.
Wild with breaking pitches but throwing up zeros for his first five innings, Cubs starter Justin Germano walked all three batters he faced in the sixth -- Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce -- to load the bases.
After reliever Manuel Corpas replaced Germano, Scott Rolen flied to center field, but the ball didn't carry deep enough to let Votto tag up and score. Hanigan then connected on a first pitch from Corpas and drove it deep to right-center field to clear the bases.
"It felt good. Bases loaded, it's got to come to you in that situation," said Hanigan, who is batting .342 over his last 26 games. "I was trying to get the ball in the outfield and drive it out there. Fortunately, it got over their heads and worked out."
In their last eight games, the Reds are batting .211 (60-for-284), and that includes the 17-hit output in the 11-inning win at Miami on Sunday. Yet, they are 5-3 in that stretch while the pitching staff has a 3.16 ERA.
If a pitcher is working well like Bailey did, it can overshadow any shortcomings from the bats. Over 7 1/3 innings, he allowed one run and four hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
"It starts with good pitching," Baker said. "If you're getting good pitching, when you get that key hit, it means something. It means a lot. You're not playing from behind, you're playing from even."
"Homer was on point," Hanigan said. "He was really in control most of the game. He could get ahead with whatever pitch he wanted to. His fastball command was great -- in and out, up and down. He kept guys off balance and didn't fall into too many patterns."
Bailey did not allow his first hit until the bottom of the third -- Darwin Barney's one-out single. The second single came via Steve Clevenger's leadoff hit in the fifth. After that, Bailey retired 10 in a row until Barney's one-out single in the eighth.
Pinch-hitter Bryan LaHair's RBI double into the right-field corner scored Barney and finished Bailey's night.
"Once we scored those three runs, I really tried to put a lot of effort into putting up zeros," Bailey said. "I really wished I could have finished that eighth. I made a pretty good pitch. LaHair just went down there and got it. Nothing you can really do about that."
Sean Marshall replaced Bailey and hit the first batter he faced, Dave Sappelt, with a pitch on the foot to put the tying run on first base. But Marshall recovered well as Josh Vitters was called out on strikes and Anthony Rizzo grounded out to second base. Jonathan Broxton pitched a perfect ninth inning to secure his third save in place of closer Aroldis Chapman, who is out with shoulder fatigue.
"They do a great job of holding teams off balance and shutting them down," Germano said. "This late into the year, just scoring a few runs and having that kind of pitching staff is huge."
In four September starts, Bailey is 2-0 with a 1.55 ERA, and he has quality starts in five of his last six outings. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that Hanigan has caught all of those games after not working with Bailey most of the season.
"He's throwing as well as anybody we have right now," Baker said. "It's good to see this down the stretch."
The Reds have 14 games remaining to figure out their hitting issues, plenty of time to go before the postseason. But in the playoffs, especially when the pitching is solid, it sometimes takes only one hit to make the difference like it did on Tuesday.
"It wasn't a big offensive night for either team, obviously," Hanigan said. "It was really our main opportunity that inning, and we capitalized on it. I felt confident once we got those three runs that the momentum was big time in our favor."