Reds-Pirates Preview

Currently atop the wild-card standings, the Pittsburgh Pirates

and Cincinnati Reds know what’s at stake this weekend.

Pittsburgh’s Francisco Liriano goes toe-to-toe with Cincinnati’s

Mat Latos as these NL Central rivals open a crucial three-game set

Friday night at PNC Park.

After managing four runs during a three-game skid, the Pirates

(88-65) beat San Diego 10-1 on Thursday to move one game ahead of

the Reds (87-66) in the wild-card standings and also one game

behind St. Louis for the division lead. These teams play six of

their final nine regular-season games against each other.

“We are going to hold our destiny in our hands the next week and

a half,” Latos told MLB’s official website.

Pittsburgh has taken seven of 13 in the series, including four

of six at home.

“It’s going to be really exciting. I’m juiced,” said Reds third

baseman Todd Frazier, batting .350 during a 10-game hitting streak

against the Pirates. “You’re going to feel a little fall

atmosphere. Hopefully, it’s a little nippy out there. I love it

like that. It keeps me in tune. Hopefully, it will be a packed

house, and a lot of craziness will happen and we come out with

victories.”

While Liriano (16-7, 2.92 ERA) is enjoying the best season of

his career, he has compiled a 4.41 ERA in losing each of his three

starts against the Reds. Pittsburgh, though, has backed him with

only one total run in those games.

The left-hander is 8-1 with a 1.37 ERA at home, with his only

loss coming 2-0 to Cincinnati on June 1. Shin-Soo Choo is 6 for 27

with nine strikeouts in their matchups, and Jay Bruce is 0 for

8.

Liriano took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before

surrendering a two-run homer in Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Chicago

Cubs, resulting in his first no-decision.

“He battles and he competes,” manager Clint Hurdle said of

Liriano, who was removed after 107 pitches. “Francisco’s a pro and

he realizes it wouldn’t benefit anyone for him to throw 130 pitches

on Sept. 15.”

Latos (14-6, 3.14) had gone 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA in his previous

10 starts before yielding all five runs in 6 2-3 innings last

Friday in a 5-1 loss at Milwaukee.

“It’s just one of those days where you just have to hit the

reset button and go after them again the next time you go out,” he

said.

Latos is 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 10 career

starts against the Pirates spanning 61 innings. He has had his way

with several of their hitters, including Pedro Alvarez (5 for 22),

Clint Barmes (1 for 15), Garrett Jones (2 for his last 21) and

Starling Marte (2 for 13).

Alvarez snapped an 0-for-18 slump with his 34th homer Thursday,

tied for the most in the NL. Marte missed the game due to the birth

of his first child, leaving his status for this one unclear.

The Reds are coming off a three-game sweep at Houston, winning

6-5 in 13 innings Wednesday. Bruce stayed hot with three hits and

three RBIs, delivering a tiebreaking two-run double in the

13th.

The slugging right-fielder is 9 for 17 with a homer and 10 RBIs

in his last four games.

Cincinnati also got a boost from speedster Billy Hamilton, who

went 3 for 4 with two runs and became the first player since 1920

to steal four bases in his first big league start.

“My job is to steal bases, no matter how many I get,” said

Hamilton, who has nine steals in as many tries in eight games since

getting called up Sept. 2. “That’s a really big accomplishment for

one game. So who knows what comes next.”