Friday, September 20, 2013

Series preview against Pittsburgh Pirates

After 153 games in the books, and with only nine games to go, just one game separates the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates in the standings. And as fate would have it, the rivals are set to play each other six times over the next 10 days, with the last meeting coming Sunday, Sept. 29 at Great American Ball Park, possibly for the right to host the National League Wild Card game, or if the Cardinals falter between now and then, perhaps even the chance to win the division title. However, for the time being, the two teams are focused on this weekend's pivotal three-game series at PNC Park.

Entering Friday's series opener, the Pirates boast an 88-65 record, which is good enough for the top Wild Card spot, but still one game back of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the division. Pittsburgh enjoyed a 3.5 game lead over the Reds as recently as Monday, but dropping three out of four at home to the San Diego Padres, coupled with Cincinnati's three-game series sweep over the Astros in Houston, has closed the margin, obviously.

Now, Clint Hurdle's bunch is tasked with dispatching Dusty Baker's club and avoiding the possibility of having to play their first playoff game since 1992 on the road in a winner-take-all, one-game playoff. It won't be an easy task, though. The Pirates are going up against a veteran team who have won the division crown in two of the last three seasons and are making a late push to make it three out of four. Additionally, Baker and the Reds have stacked their rotation this weekend to counter Pittsburgh's, which will feature ace Mat Latos (14-6) versus Francisco Liriano (16-7) on Friday, Homer Bailey (11-10) versus A.J. Burnett (8-11) on Saturday, and Bronson Arroyo (13-11) versus Jeff Locke (10-6) on Sunday.

Although the Pirates lead the season series, 7-6, and are 4-2 when playing at home, the Reds now have a new weapon at their disposal in recently promoted speedster Billy Hamilton, who has been nothing short of electrifying as of late. He stole four bases in his first major league start on Wednesday and is a perfect 9-for-9 in the big leagues since being called up Sept. 2.

All in all, the series shapes up to be a good one, and promises to have a playoff atmosphere in a city that has been craving postseason baseball for over two decades. The Pirates would love to be able to sweep the Redlegs right out of town, and give themselves some breathing room in the standings, but I think each team would be thrilled to walk off the field Sunday by winning two out of three. If the Reds can do this, they will be tied with Pittsburgh with just six games left on the schedule.

Here are a few more notables on the series:

+ Liriano is 0-3 in his three starts against the Reds in 2013. However, the Pirates have spotted him just one total run of support in those games.
+ Liriano is 8-1 with a 1.37 ERA at home. His only defeat came on June 1 against the Reds.
+ Latos is 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 10 career starts against the Pirates.
+ Latos and Bailey are trying to become the first set of Reds teammates to record at least 200 strikeouts in a single season. Bailey has 193 while Latos has tallied 179.
+ Cincy is 53-50 all-time at PNC Park.
+ Four of the last five meetings have been decided by one run.
+ After this series, the Pirates head to Chicago for a three-game set against the Cubs before traveling to the Queen City for a trio of games to close out the regular season.
+ The Reds will play host to the New York Mets next week before welcoming the Buccos to town.

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