CHICAGO -- The heart of their lineup is still missing, but the Reds keep finding ways to survive and lead the National League Central race as the season reaches mid-August.
What happened on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field was just the latest example, as the shorthanded Reds beat the Cubs, 4-2, despite missing first baseman Joey Votto (knee surgery), third baseman Scott Rolen (lower back pain) and slumping right fielder Jay Bruce.
After trailing from the second inning on, and looking baffled against former Reds starter Travis Wood, Cincinnati scored three runs in the top of the eighth against reliever James Russell to take the lead and clear the way for Bronson Arroyo (8-7) to pick up an impressive win.
Earlier in the day, the Reds announced that Votto needed another minor surgical procedure done on Friday to clean up his surgically repaired left knee. It will delay his return up to 10 days longer than his anticipated return next week, but the Reds aren't flinching.
"We've been relatively resilient, and it's something you really can't say about the ballclub in years past," said Arroyo, who gave up two runs on a double by David DeJesus in the second and then allowed only one hit over the next six innings. "A lot of times, once we were down, we haven't been able to come back. If you look at last year, I think we lost more one-run games than we ever could've expected, and this year we've won a lot of those. To win those one-run ballgames is going to make the difference in a season, and right now, we've done pretty well."
This one didn't fall into that category after Wilson Valdez drove in Chris Heisey with two outs in the eighth for an insurance run, but it was a one-run game for most of the day -- with the Cubs leading, 2-1, from the second through the seventh.
Wood was on cruise control. He only allowed one run on five hits, walked one and struck out eight -- including the Reds' top two hitters, Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs, a combined six times. He was finished after throwing 99 pitches, though, which is when Cubs manager Dale Sveum went to Russell (5-1) to start the eighth.
Russell ran into trouble immediately. After striking out in his first three at-bats, Stubbs doubled to left field to lead off, followed by a Brandon Phillips single on what appeared to be a near-blind swing because of the late-afternoon shadows between the mound and home plate.
Ryan Ludwick drove them both home with a two-run double into the left-field corner for the Reds' first lead of the day, which made it feel like somewhat of a foregone conclusion the visitors would win with Aroldis Chapman warming up his 100-plus-mph heater in the bullpen.
Valdez's RBI single gave Chapman the added run, but the Cuban fireballer didn't need it. Also aided by the shadows, Chapman set the Cubs down in order in the ninth for his 27th save and second in as many days. All nine fastballs launched from his left hand were clocked at 100 mph or higher, with the highest being a pair to Starlin Castro that traveled 103 mph.
"Unbelievable," Castro said. "This guy's awesome. He throws his changeup 94 and his slider 91. It's unbelievable. That's a fastball with other pitchers, 91, 93, but he throws [his] changeup 93. You have to swing, because you don't want to be late, you want to be up front every time. 103 miles per hour ... unbelievable."
Ludwick pretty much knew what the Cubs were in for, too, after struggling to see Alberto Cabrera's 93 mph fastball in the top of the ninth.
"That's why I thought when [Chapman] came into the game, 'We've got a pretty good shot today,'" said Ludwick, who had also had a big game on Friday. "I knew with Chappy coming in for the ninth it was going to be tough for them to see the ball, and when he's throwing 102 ... he's been lights out all year long anyways, so I don't think he needs the shadows."
It's tempting to say the Reds also don't need their biggest bats in the lineup, but they will need them eventually. Bruce will return on Sunday from a two-day stint on the bench to clear his mind during a slump, but Rolen is still day to day with a sore lower back, and the earliest Votto will return now will be toward the end of August.
In the meantime, the Reds must make do with the guys who've helped them bridge the gap thus far. Cincinnati is now 18-8 in the 26 games since Votto left the lineup July 17, and many of those wins mirrored this one -- in which the Reds rode a strong outing by Arroyo until their scrappy lineup finally seized the lead late in the game.
If they want to hang onto first place ahead of the Pirates and Cardinals, the Reds will have to keep winning games the scrappy way until their injured stars either return or return to form.
This win was a perfect example of why the Reds (68-46) have actually increased their lead in the division to at least 3 1/2 games while missing Votto. It was also their second close win in a row after dropping a season-high five straight to start this road trip, which now sets them up to finish on a high note in the series finale on Sunday.
"When you're sliding down and losing close ballgames, you're grinding, and the last two games we had to grind our butts off," said Arroyo, who retired 12 straight at one point. "Luckily both of them turned out in our favor. It's definitely a nice relief and gives you an opportunity to come into the ballpark [Sunday] and be a little bit looser, and just go out there and play without a lot of pressure."
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.