The Cincinnati Reds appear to have the right pitcher in the right ballpark as they start their final road trip of the year.
Homer Bailey has never lost at PNC Park, where Pittsburgh Pirates 16-game winner A.J. Burnett has dropped his last three outings heading into Friday night’s opener of a three-game set.
The NL Central champion Reds (94-62) remain in a tight race with Washington for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and have yet to clinch a better record than San Francisco for home field in the division series.
This six-game trip begins with Cincinnati looking to improve to 6-0 in Bailey’s starts at Pittsburgh (76-80). Bailey (12-10, 3.92 ERA) is 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA in the first five.
The right-hander is 2-2 with a 4.56 ERA in four overall starts against the Pirates this year.
This will be the fourth time this year that Bailey will oppose Burnett (16-8, 3.53). Bailey went 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in the first three outings, with Burnett going 2-1 with a 3.20 ERA – all in Cincinnati.
PNC Park, meanwhile, hasn’t been kind to Burnett lately. He began 8-1 with a 2.81 ERA in his first 12 home outings before posting a 4.32 ERA in dropping his last three.
Pittsburgh had dropped six straight overall starts by Burnett before he struck out 11 and limited Houston to one run over eight innings Sunday in an 8-1 victory. He’s the first Pirate to win at least 16 games since 1991.
“I just want to put my team in a position to win and get us in a good position at the end of the year,” he said.
No Cincinnati hitter has more than two hits against Burnett this year, and no one with at least eight career at-bats against him is batting over .250.
Bailey’s seven wins over Pittsburgh are his most against any opponent. He posted a 1.55 ERA in his first four September outings before giving up five runs over 6 2-3 innings Sunday in a 5-3 home defeat to the Dodgers.
Pittsburgh star center fielder Andrew McCutchen exited Thursday’s 6-5 loss to the Mets after hurting his left knee while attempting to make a diving catch. McCutchen is vying for the batting title with a .332 average, though on Thursday he fell behind San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.333).
“It’s all right. It’s not broken or anything,” McCutchen said. “It’ll be fine. I’m ready to go.”
The Pirates must win five of their last six games – against playoff-bound Cincinnati and Atlanta – to avoid their 20th consecutive losing season. The streak of futility already is a record for North American major professional leagues.
Cincinnati is seeking a fifth straight road victory after salvaging a split of a six-game homestand by rallying for Thursday’s 2-1 win over Milwaukee. Todd Frazier hit a tying, two-out homer in the ninth inning and Dioner Navarro added an RBI triple two batters later.
The Reds aren’t too concerned despite batting .207 and totaling 17 runs on the homestand.
“Runs are not our worry,” Frazier said. “Our worry is figuring out who we’ll play in the playoffs.”
Cincinnati has limited McCutchen to a .240 average in winning nine of 15 from Pittsburgh.