CINCINNATI -- It was a loss that contained a little bit of everything.
The Pirates made a fielding miscue that led to runs. They gave away an out on the bases. They put the leadoff man on base -- or let him circle them at a slow trot -- in the first four innings.
It added up to their fifth consecutive loss, a 5-3 defeat Tuesday night at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. The Pirates have now lost nine of their past 11 games. They are 13-25 since Aug. 1.
Despite their performance in the past two weeks, the Pirates are still within striking distance of the second National League wild-card playoff spot. They trail the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers in the race.
"The way we've gotten here, it feels like we're in a bad position, but we're not," pitcher Kevin Correia said. "We talked about it, we realize if we would have won eight out of 10 to get three back everybody would be in a big craze. We lost to get in this situation but we're still in a good spot. If we can get hot like we have a few times this year, we're going to be right in it."
Correia (10-9) allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in each of the first four innings. He allowed four runs, three earned, and seven hits in six innings.
Leading off the first, Brandon Phillips ambushed the first pitch Correia threw and lined it into the seats in left for his 17th homer this season. Scott Rolen homered on the first pitch he saw from Kyle McPherson in the eighth.
Sandwiched between those homers were three more runs, two that came on a wild pitch and an error. Dioner Navarro walked to lead off the second. With one out, Reds starter Mike Leake squared to bunt, drawing the corner infielders in, but he pulled the bat back and swung, chopping a grounder past third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Clint Barmes dived for Phillips' grounder, but deflected it into the outfield, and Navarro scored.
With runners on second and third, Correia bounced a pitch that hopped away from catcher Michael McKenry. Leake scored from third, deflecting McKenry's throw to the plate as he did so. That allowed Phillips to score and the Reds led, 4-1.
The Pirates made outs on the first pitch of the at-bat several times. They forced Leake to throw a lot of pitches in the first inning, but he averaged about 10 pitches per inning over his next six.
"This is an ongoing challenge for us," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're trying to find that good balance. We've had it at times. We haven't had it lately. We did not have it [Monday] night. I thought at-bats were better tonight."
Leake (8-9) allowed three runs and nine hits in seven innings. Jonathan Broxton earned the save.
The Pirates wasted Clint Barmes' leadoff double in the fifth.
Barmes laced a ball down the third-base line past Rolen, who was playing even with the bag. Correia popped out on a bunt attempt, continuing a trend that has affected many Pirates this season. Brock Holt singled to shallow right, sending Barmes to third, but Joey Votto cut off Jay Bruce's throw and flipped the ball to Phillips at first to catch Holt off the bag as he made his turn.
Alex Presley grounded out weakly for the final out of the inning.
"That's an awareness play that I think we could have handled better," Hurdle said. "It probably won't happen to him again, unfortunately, but that sure didn't help our cause."
Presley battled back from behind in the count in the first to hit a 3-2 pitch to right field for his ninth home run of the season.
"Three-two, I'm in front of [Andrew McCutchen], they don't want me on base early," Presley said. "They're not going to walk me. I'm looking dead red down the middle, and that's what I got."
Pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez homered in the seventh, scoring Jose Tabata and cutting the Reds' lead to 4-3.
The Pirates' next chance to end their losing streak comes Wednesday, when A.J. Burnett takes the mound against Homer Bailey. Burnett is 3-0 with a 2.18 ERA in three starts against the Reds this season.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 12, 2012 4:00 AM