Pirates-Reds Preview

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds split their first 16 meetings a season ago.

It’s the last four that Pittsburgh captured that changed the fortunes for both.

The Pirates and Reds will meet for the first time since last year’s wild-card game when they open a three-game set Monday night in Cincinnati.

These NL Central rivals were separated by one game heading into the final series of 2013, with the winner of that set clinching home-field advantage for the wild-card game. Pittsburgh (6-6) swept that series by outscoring Cincinnati 16-6, and then went on to post a 6-2 victory in the Pirates’ first playoff game since 1992.

The Reds (4-8) fired manager Dusty Baker three days after that defeat while the Pirates nearly upset St. Louis in a division series, falling in five games.

Cincinnati had similar problems at the plate this season under new manager Bryan Price as it did down the stretch against Pittsburgh last year. The Reds broke out of those woes with their highest scoring effort with a season-high 13 hits in Sunday’s 12-4 rout of Tampa Bay.

”The key early in the season is to not lose faith,” Price said. ”We understand that we’re a good team, and everyone in there knows it.”

Cincinnati entered the contest batting .198 with runners in scoring position, but went 4 for 12 in that department against the Rays. Devin Mesoraco hit a three-run homer and Chris Heisey delivered a pinch-hit grand slam.

”It’s so early that you really can’t say we’re not going to hit with runners in scoring position,” Mesoraco said. ”We’ve just got to bear down and try not to do too much.”

The Pirates are the team searching for offense now as they fell to 2-4 on this nine-game trip after being swept by red-hot Milwaukee, capped by Sunday’s 4-1 defeat. Pittsburgh totaled five runs and struck out 26 times in the three-game set.

Pedro Alvarez went 0 for 10 with five strikeouts and Starling Marte was 2 for 12 with five strikeouts in the series.

Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen combined for 20 RBIs in the regular season against the Reds in 2013, with each homering four times. McCutchen had three hits in his last two games against the Brewers to raise his average from .194 to .233.

Brandon Phillips batted .302 with a team-best 15 RBIs in the season series while Joey Votto had 22 walks and a 1.000 OPS. Jay Bruce, meanwhile, hit .143 with 24 strikeouts and won’t find things easy Monday since he is 3 for 35 with 16 strikeouts against Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez.

Rodriguez (0-2, 5.73 ERA) lost his first two outings to the Chicago Cubs. He is 0-3 with a 4.78 ERA in his last six against Cincinnati. Votto is a career .352 hitter versus the left-hander.

The Reds will counter with Homer Bailey (0-1, 7.71), who failed to last past the fifth inning in his first two starts versus St. Louis. Bailey went 8-2 with a 2.51 ERA in his first 12 career outings versus the Pirates before going 0-3 with a 4.30 ERA in four last year.