Hosting a third consecutive NL wild-card game remains uncertain for the Pittsburgh Pirates entering the regular season’s final day.
The Pirates still have plenty to play for in Sunday’s finale with Cincinnati after losing 3-1 to the Reds Saturday and the Chicago Cubs winning 1-0 at Milwaukee. The NL Central rivals are separated by one game, and the Cubs own the tiebreaker by winning the season series 11-8.
”We do hard,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. ”We’ve done hard from the start.”
Pittsburgh (97-64) has dropped four of six following an eight-game winning streak and managed four hits against Brandon Finnegan and three relievers as Cincinnati (64-97) ended a 13-game skid, its longest since 1945.
”It’s been a month of just a bunch of bad luck,” Finnegan said. ”Nothing’s been going our way, really, so it felt good to have something finally come on our side.”
The Pirates, 52-28 at PNC Park, will turn to J.A. Happ (6-2, 2.04 ERA) to secure home field for Wednesday’s wild-card game while the left-hander makes one last case for a rotation spot should they win it.
Hurdle announced Saturday that Gerrit Cole will start Wednesday. Francisco Liriano and the retiring A.J. Burnett, who allowed three runs before exiting to a standing ovation with two outs in the seventh inning Saturday, also have spots locked up if Pittsburgh reaches the NLDS.
Happ has already made a strong argument for his place by going 6-1 with a 1.51 ERA over his last eight starts and striking out eight or more in four straight before Monday’s outing against St. Louis, during which he yielded one hit over six scoreless innings in Pittsburgh’s 3-0 loss.
The midseason pickup fanned a season-best 10 while holding the Reds to two runs and three hits over six innings in a 5-4 victory at Great American Ball Park on Sept. 9.
Happ does own a 6.25 ERA in seven career starts against Cincinnati, however, and has struggled against two of the Reds’ top hitters. Brandon Phillips is 7 for 17 with three homers off him and Joey Votto is 8 for 19 with four doubles.
Phillips went 2 for 3 with a run scored Saturday, but Votto was 0 for 4 to end his 48-game streak of reaching base. The run equaled Pete Rose’s club record set in 1978.
Votto has reached base an MLB-leading 317 times this season, one more than his previous franchise mark in 2013.
Josh Smith (0-3, 7.22) takes another shot at an elusive first major league victory as the Cincinnati rookie makes his seventh start and fourth since rejoining the rotation in mid-September.
Smith is 0-1 with a 7.07 ERA over that three-game stretch. He notched a career-high seven strikeouts Tuesday against the Cubs, but walked five and allowed four runs in five innings of a 4-1 home loss.
The 28-year-old’s lone appearance against Pittsburgh came at PNC Park in relief June 23, with Smith walking six and surrendering a three-run homer to Francisco Cervelli while reached for four runs in three innings during his MLB debut.
Cincinnati is 30-50 on the road but has won five of eight at PNC Park this season.