Considering they haven’t made the playoffs or even had a winning record since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates would be thrilled to earn one of the National League’s two wild-card spots, and they enter play Friday leading those standings. But this year one wild-card team is only going to play a single postseason game, making winning a division even more of a priority. So clearly there is motivation for Pittsburgh to try and catch the Reds in the NL Central. Cincinnati leads the second-place Pirates by 3.5 games, and the two teams meet nine more times this season, starting with this three-game set at Great American Ball Park.
No team in baseball has been hotter than the Reds. They saw their 10-game winning streak snapped in Monday’s series opener with the Padres (only the eighth double-digit winning streak in franchise history), but then took the final three games vs. San Diego. Amazingly, Cincinnati is doing this without injured superstar Joey Votto. The 2010 NL MVP (and a strong candidate this year before getting hurt) has not played since July 15 and had arthroscopic surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee July 17. He is improving but won’t be playing this weekend. The original diagnosis was 3-4 weeks. Also injured is stud second baseman Brandon Phillips. He sat out Wednesday and Thursday with a calf injury and is very questionable for this series – the team is confident he can avoid the DL.
The Pirates, meanwhile, are a solid 12-7 since the all-star break and have won six of their past eight games. Pittsburgh has had an incredibly easy schedule since the break, however. Their opponents read like a who’s who of the NL’s worst teams: Brewers, Rockies, Marlins, Cubs, Astros and Cubs again. Pittsburgh did drop a series to the Brewers and one to the Cubs. Starting with this series, the schedule gets tougher for the next few weeks with matchups also against the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Cardinals (and, yes, one series vs. lousy San Diego).
Both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh made significant trades before Tuesday’s deadline. The Reds added former Royals closer Jonathan Broxton to the majors’ best bullpen. Broxton and lefty Sean Marshall are the best 1-2 set-up duo in the majors ahead of the most unhittable closer in MLB in Aroldis Chapman. The Pirates, meanwhile, traded for Houston starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, Yankees reliever Chad Qualls and added desperately-needed bats in outfielder Travis Snider (Jays) and first baseman Gaby Sanchez (Marlins). Snider is 3-for-9 with three runs scored in two games with Pittsburgh, while Sanchez was 0-for-2 in his one game.
The clubs played nine times before the break. The Reds took two of three from May 4-6 at Pittsburgh, limiting the Pirates to four total runs. On May 28-30, also in Pittsburgh, the Reds lost two of three. And June 5-7 in Cincinnati, the Pirates won two of three. The final game of that series was notable as Pittsburgh won 5-4 in 10 innings when the Reds’ Chapman allowed his first earned run all season, taking the loss.
Pirates at Reds Probable Starting Pitchers
Friday: Pirates LHP Wandy Rodriguez (7-9, 3.82) vs. Reds RHP Mat Latos (9-3, 4.17) – In his debut with Pittsburgh, Rodriguez took a no-decision vs. his former Houston team and allowed three runs and six hits in six innings. He faced the Reds in his final start as an Astro and lost after allowing three runs and seven hits in six innings. Latos has been mostly brilliant since mid-June, allowing more than two earned runs just once in that stretch. His best start of the season came May 6 in Pittsburgh, blanking the Pirates on two hits and striking out 11 (by far his season high) in six innings.
Saturday: Pirates RHP James McDonald (10-5, 3.37) vs. Reds RHP Mike Leake (4-7, 4.44) – McDonald’s season ERA has gone up after each of his past starts, allowing 20 total runs in those four. Prior to that, he allowed more than three earned runs in just one start all season. McDonald is 2-0 vs. the Reds this year, allowing one run in 14.1 innings. Leake was raked for five runs in just 1.2 innings in that Monday loss to San Diego. The Reds have lost both of his starts vs. the Pirates this year, with Leake allowing seven runs in 14 innings.
Sunday: Pirates LHP Erik Bedard (5-12, 4.83) vs. Reds RHP Homer Bailey (9-6, 3.85) – Bedard was bombed last time out by the Cubs, allowing nine runs in just 4.1 innings. He leads the majors in losses but hasn’t faced the Reds in 2012. Bailey had been stellar in July but allowed six runs and nine hits in 3.2 innings in his final start of the month. Even with that outing, he had a 2.61 July ERA. Bailey is 1-1 with a 5.25 ERA vs. the Pirates this season.
Pirates at Reds Betting Odds and Trends
For the series, I project the Reds at about -160, with Pittsburgh at +140. In Game 1, the Reds are -150 favorites with the total at 8, according to Bookmaker. Pittsburgh is 29-23-2 “over/under” on the road, while Cincy is 23-26-4 at home.
Pittsburgh is 7-2 in its past nine road games. The Pirates have won 17 of their past 23 vs. right-handed starters. But Pittsburgh has lost five of its past seven series openers. The Reds have won their past five vs. lefty starters. Cincinnati has won 12 of its past 14 at home vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 9-1-2 in the Reds’ past 12 games vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in Pittsburgh’s past five series openers. The Pirates have won six of their past seven in Cincinnati.
MLB Predictions: Pirates at Reds Betting Picks
Maybe it’s good for Pittsburgh that this series is in Cincinnati. That’s because all three of the Reds’ losses since the break have come at home. But the last series they lost at home (split a four-gamer vs. Arizona) was June 22-24 vs. the Twins.
The Pirates do avoid Reds ace Johnny Cueto, who went Thursday. But the Reds also avoid Pittsburgh ace A.J. Burnett. I’d really like to take Pittsburgh here with the Reds minus Votto and likely Phillips. But no team has more home wins than Cincinnati, and the Pirates are so-so on the road (27-28). Plus, the league seems to have figured out the Bucs’ McDonald and Bedard. Take the Reds for the series and in Game 1, with the under.
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