The San Francisco Giants, still hanging around in the National League West race, are coming off a meaningful series against a big rival that turned out very good. But not quite good enough.
The Cincinnati Reds, out of contention almost since the first week of the season, are coming off a mostly meaningless series against a big rival that turned out very bad. One that invoked memories of their historically bad start.
The Giants, who followed two victories with a tough, extra-inning loss during their three-game road series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, begin a string of games against losing-record teams when they open a three-game series against the last-place Reds on Friday night at Great American Ball Park.
San Francisco is fourth in the NL West, trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Colorado Rockies, and perhaps a contender in name only. Advancing as a wild card might be far too much to ask; they currently trail six other teams.
But manager Bruce Bochy is treating this series as if it couldn't be any more significant. He's dropping a fifth starter for the time being and will send out rookie right-hander Dereck Rodriguez (6-1) and left-handers Madison Bumgarner (4-4) and Andrew Suarez (4-8), his three hottest starters, to face the Reds.
After the weekend in Cincinnati, the Giants move on to New York to play the poor-record Mets, a team they'll oppose twice in a span of four series. So if they're ever going to make a move, now is the time for it.
"This is a big road trip," left-hander Derek Holland said after a 4-3, 12th-inning loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday. "We have to take advantage of where we are in this situation. We have to try to push and get all the wins we can."
Hence Bochy's decision to go with his best starters against one of the NL's worst-record teams.
The Reds will send out right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (6-3), coming off two successive dominating starts, to oppose the streaking Rodriguez, who has won his last five decisions. It should be an intriguing pitching matchup -- the two combined to give up exactly two earned runs, or one apiece, in 28 innings of their last two starts.
Rodriguez is proving to be dynamic for the Giants, leading all rookie pitchers with a 2.25 ERA in 14 games, including 12 starts. His ERA is the sixth lowest overall in the majors among all starters with at least 80 innings pitched. He has allowed one or no runs in seven of his last nine starts, a span in which his ERA is a microscopic 1.28.
The rookie followed up seven innings of three-hit shutout pitching against the Houston Astros on Aug. 6 by beating the Pirates 4-3 on Sunday, limiting them to two hits and one run in seven innings. His only loss came June 9, or more than two months ago.
"I've been waiting for this my whole life, to be my own player," said Rodriguez, the son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez. "I knew it was going to happen when I got called up, the son of Pudge and stuff, but I'm just happy. Slowly but surely I'm going to separate myself from him a little more."
The Reds, losers of four straight and 11 of 15, badly need a lift after being outscored 22-5 during a three-game sweep by the intrastate rival Indians.
DeSclafani is capable of giving them one, having beaten the Washington Nationals and Diamondbacks in successive starts in which he gave up nine hits while striking out 11 in 14 innings.
"He's coming in there throwing strikes, hitting all his spots," center fielder Billy Hamilton told the team's website. "Every pitch is working for him. ... You know he's going to come in and give you what he's got, he's going to be the best he can every time out there, and he throws a lot of strikes."
The Giants took two of three from the Reds at AT&T Park from May 14-16 in their other meeting this season, back when Cincinnati was trying to shake off its 8-27 start.