Any disappointment the Pittsburgh Pirates felt after watching another team celebrate winning the NL Central title at their own park quickly dissipated, as they instead focused their attention on the upcoming postseason.
Pittsburgh’s next goal is to secure home-field advantage in the wild-card game for a third straight year as they open a three-game series with the visiting Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.
The Pirates (96-63) have the second-best record in baseball, but unfortunately the only team with a better mark is St. Louis, which clinched the Central with Wednesday’s 11-1 win in the second game of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh.
They’ll make yet another appearance in the wild-card game and are guaranteed to face the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday. Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati in the one-game playoff in 2013 and lost to eventual World Series champion San Francisco last year.
”You’ve got to man up,” outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. ”(The Cardinals) played better ”
Where the wild-card game will be played still hasn’t been decided. The Pirates’ magic number to host remained at two after the Cubs beat the Reds 5-3 on Thursday.
”The ultimate goal hasn’t changed – to win a world championship,” manager Clint Hurdle said. ”We’re just going to have go about it in a different method now.”
Pittsburgh can guarantee a home playoff game by winning two of three from Cincinnati (63-96), which has lost 12 straight for the first time in 22 years and is on the verge of its first 13-game skid since August 1945.
Francisco Liriano (12-7, 3.27 ERA) gets the ball as the Pirates look to win for the 16th time in his last 17 starts. Liriano struck out nine in 7 2-3 innings of Saturday’s 4-0 win over the Cubs, giving him 200 to put him one short of his career high set in 2010 with Minnesota.
The left-hander has a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Reds this season and struck out 10 in six innings of a 7-3 victory when he last faced them Sept. 8.
Todd Frazier is hitless in six at-bats with three strikeouts this season against Liriano. He went 0 for 4 on Thursday as the last-place Reds completed an 0-7 homestand.
”We anticipated having a competitive season. It lasted a third of the way through the year," manager Bryan Price said. "We had to move some pieces. We know where we’re headed, but the won-loss situation is hard to work through.”
The Reds, though, are a surprising 10-6 against the Pirates. Joey Votto had two hits Thursday to extend his on-base streak to 47, the longest in the majors since Kevin Millar’s 52-gamer in 2007 and one short of Pete Rose’s franchise mark set in 1978.
Votto, though, is 2 for 15 with nine strikeouts in his last five against Pittsburgh and 4 for 21 lifetime off Liriano.
Cincinnati sends Keyvius Sampson (2-6, 6.46) to the hill looking to end its skid. Sampson had the shortest start of his rookie season Sunday, when he allowed five runs – two earned – and eight hits in 2 2-3 innings of an 8-1 loss to the New York Mets. He’s gone fewer than five innings in six of his 11 starts.
”My fastball isn’t there,” the 24-year-old right-hander said. ”This is the first time I’ve pitched into September. I threw some good pitches with my curve, but when I did the ball seemed to find a hole.”
Sampson made his major league debut in relief against the Pirates on July 30 and has a 6.97 ERA while losing both of his starts against them.