PITTSBURGH PIRATES (91-68)
at CINCINNATI REDS (90-69)
First pitch: Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET
Line: Cincinnati -130, Pittsburgh +120, Total: 7
The Reds cannot win the NL Central, but they still have their sights set on a playoff home game, trailing the Wild Card-leading Pirates by just one game as the clubs open a three-game set on Friday to end the regular season.
Heading into the final weekend, St. Louis has a three-game lead on Pittsburgh and four-game lead on Cincinnati, meaning one Cardinals win or one Pirates loss will give St. Louis the division title and put Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in Tuesday's one-game NL Wild Card round. Neither team has been particularly hot as of late with eh Pirates going 4-6 in their past three series and the Reds scoring a mere five total runs while losing 2-of-3 games to the Mets. Friday's matchup features of pair of right-handers, Pittsburgh veteran A.J. Burnett (9-11, 3.39 ERA) and Cincinnati no-hit king Homer Bailey (11-11, 3.40 ERA). These same two pitchers squared off last Saturday with Burnett leading his team to a 4-2 victory. The Pirates have been a very good road team this year, going 41-37 (.526, 7th in MLB), but the Reds have also played very well at home at 49-29 (.628, 8th in MLB). The two teams have been very competitive against each other this year, splitting 16 games 8-8. Cincy hold a slight 4-3 edge at home, but over the past three seasons, the teams have an even 11-11 split at Great American Ball Park in 22 meetings.
Burnett (1.24 WHIP) has pitched much better than his 9-11 record or the team's 13-16 record would indicate. He's compiled 203 strikeouts in his 183 innings, but his 66 walks are a bit on the high side. Burnett has been much worse on the road this season though, carting a 4.50 ERA and 1.42 WHIP and saddling his team with a 4-11 mark away from home. Since the start of August, he has a 6.63 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in five road starts. But since arriving in Pittsburgh, the right-hander has pitched pretty well versus the Reds. In eight starts over these past two seasons, he is 4-3 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, holding Cincy to a .219 BA and .302 slugging percentage. However, those numbers haven't been nearly as strong at Great American Ball Park (4 GS, 3.20 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) despite 31 K's in 25.1 IP. Current Reds players have a combined .225 BA off Burnett, but their two All-Stars have hit the right-hander well -- 2B Brandon Phillips (.360 BA in 25 AB) and 1B Joey Votto (.353 BA, five walks in 22 plate appearances). Three players who might want sit this game out and not have to face Burnett include OF Jay Bruce (3-for-24, 9 K's), OF Chris Heisey (3-for-16, 7 K's) and C Ryan Hanigan (1-for-13, 2 K's). Burnett has averaged 6.3 innings per start this season, but just 5.9 IP per start on the road. At least he knows that if he gets in trouble, his bullpen has been excellent all season. Pirates relievers are 29-20 with a 2.91 ERA and 1.17 WHIP this year, converting 53-of-68 save chances (78%).
Bailey (1.11 WHIP) has put together another productive season, recording 196 strikeouts and just 50 walks over 204 innings. Although his team is a middling 16-15 in his 31 starts, that record has been a dazzling 9-5 in his 14 home starts where Bailey is personally 5-2 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Before losing to the Pirates his last time out (5.2 IP, 2 ER), the right-hander had thrown six straight quality starts, going 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 over this stretch. Bailey has not beaten the Pirates in three tries this season despite a solid 3.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 11.5 K/9 against them. For his career, Bailey is 8-4 with a 2.69 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 8.1 K/9 in 15 starts versus the Pirates. Current Pittsburgh players have a collective .235 BA off Bailey with 3B Pedro Alvarez (2-for-17, 8 K's), 2B Neil Walker (.192 BA in 26 AB) and SS Clint Barmes (.231 BA in 26 AB) struggling the most. However, OF Andrew McCutchen has a .457 on-base percentage in 46 plate appearances versus Bailey, and C Russell Martin (.385 BA), OF Garrett Jones (.308 BA), and OF Marlon Byrd (.308 BA) all have two homers off Bailey. The right-hander usually pitches deep into games (6.6 IP per start), but has a great bullpen to support him. Reds relievers carry a 3.32 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, numbers that are even more impressive at home (3.21 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) where they have saved 22-of-26 chances (85%).