CHICAGO -- After seeing his team score one run in 27 innings over three games and lose its fifth straight on Friday, Cubs manager Rick Renteria decided it was time to talk to his players.
Renteria, who called the play on Friday "sloppy," met with the Cubs after a 4-1 loss to the Reds at Wrigley Field in which Jeff Samardzija's fourth quality start was wasted. Samardzija has a 1.29 ERA this season and zero wins.
"When it's not going so great for you as a team, you need to come together so when a guy has a down day, someone else needs to pick them up," said Samardzija, who has not won in his last 10 starts, dating to last Aug. 24. "I think that's where we're at right now."
The Reds didn't need many runs against the Cubs, who entered the game riding an 18-inning scoreless streak. Chicago finally did tally in the seventh. Trailing, 3-0, Starlin Castro singled to open the Cubs' half of the frame and Ryan Sweeney reached on a fielding error by third baseman Todd Frazier. Starter Alfredo Simon was pulled for Sam LeCure, who struck out Welington Castillo, then served up a RBI single to Luis Valbuena.
Renteria would not confirm that he talked to the players, preferring to keep his message in-house.
"He said a lot of good things," Castillo said of Renteria. "He's a positive guy."
Renteria said he's not focused on the statistics, but what he sees on the field.
"I concern myself more with the way we approach the game," Renteria said. "If our approach is good and we're really focused on what we're supposed to be doing both at the plate and in the field, I'm good with it. Today, I think we were a little sloppy in general, and Jeff really kept us in the ballgame throughout."
The players know what needs to be done, especially against their tough National League Central rivals.
"It's a long season, but the reality is good clubs really do grind out every single game," Renteria said. "I think it's a great lesson -- we play in a great division against clubs that have been in the playoffs most recently. Hey, listen, nobody's going to give us anything. If we fall short in the way we're supposed to approach the game, whatever it might be, we'll talk about it when we have to and then we'll deal with it.
"That's the beauty of the division we're in," he said. "We're in a division in which you have to play really good baseball. Good for us, because we better learn how to do it and that's what we're trying to do."
The goal, Renteria said, is to put the Cubs in position to be in the playoffs. That may be hard for some to believe.
"I know for many it's a stretch that I'm even speaking like that, but I've got to start some place and I'm not going to stop," Renteria said. "We're going to continue to correct things that need to be corrected and move forward and the ultimate goal is to win."
The Cubs are getting the starting pitching they need. They entered Friday's game ranked eighth in the NL in starting pitchers' ERA, led by Samardzija.
Devin Mesoraco singled to lead off the Reds' fifth and stole second, his second career theft and first since 2012, and one out later, he advanced on Simon's groundout. Billy Hamilton blooped a double into the gap in left-center field to take a 1-0 lead.
The Reds loaded the bases with one out in the sixth on a double by Jay Bruce, a catcher's interference call against Castillo on Ryan Ludwick's swing and a walk to Mesoraco. Zack Cozart hit a potential double-play ball to second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, who stepped on second for the force but overthrew first for an error, allowing another run to score.
Cincinnati added another run in the eighth on a wild pitch by Justin Grimm.
"We're not playing a fifth-place team," Samardzija said of the Reds. "They're a complete team. They can hit, they can play defense, they can pitch. ... When you play the Reds, Cardinals and Pirates and the Brewers now, you've got to bring your 'A' game and play clean defense and put some runs on the board and pitch well if you want to win games.
"I think it's a good learning curve for us to understand to win games in the big leagues, we need all three facets of the game to be clean," he said. "You play the good teams and they take advantage of your mistakes, and you can't give them any breathing room."
Last year, the Reds were 14-5 against the Cubs, including a 9-1 mark at Wrigley Field.
"I think any time you have winning streaks, there's a lot of things that go right, that go your way," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We've had some games where we've scored a lot of runs and given up a lot of runs. We've had some battles into extra innings, we've been in a million different types of games here the last few years, and somehow we've ended up on top, but believe me, we don't take it for granted that we're coming in here to win all the games."
The Cubs' offense has struggled, but Castillo said everyone is keeping a positive attitude.
"We can't come every day to the park [and say,] 'Oh, I'm frustrated,'" Castillo said. "We have to come with a mindset that we'll get better. 'What can I do to win the game?' That's the mindset we need to have. Be positive because a lot of bad things can happen."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.