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Surging Pirates meet improving Reds

By
Alan Robinson, The Sports Xchange
Jameson Taillon and the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Cincinnati Reds on Friday. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI
Jameson Taillon and the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Cincinnati Reds on Friday. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo

Back a few weeks ago, when the Pittsburgh Pirates were losing 31 times in 45 games and the Cincinnati Reds were still recovering from a 3-15 start, it was difficult to imagine a post-All-Star Game series between the two being very important.

But two of the majors' hottest teams will be on the field Friday night when the National League Central rivals begin their three-game series at Great American Ball Park, even though the standings would suggest otherwise, with the Pirates in fourth place and the Reds in fifth.

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Despite their recent horrid stretch of play, the Pirates finished off the pre-All-Star break portion of the season with a five-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers and headed into the break on a six-game winning streak and with eight wins in nine games.

Even better was the way they went into the break, with a come-from-behind 7-6 win on Sunday over the Brewers ended by Josh Bell's game-winning double in a downpour as lightning flashed at PNC Park.

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"It was crazy," Bell said afterward. "We've got people dancing in here (the clubhouse) and the music's blaring again. There's life back in here."

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There's life back in the Reds, too, despite their horrific 8-27 start that could have all but ended their season barely a month after it began. They failed to pull off a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals by losing 6-4 Sunday, yet their 21-10 record since June 10 is the league's best.

"I really appreciate the way they've gone hard," said interim manager Jim Riggleman, who has a 40-38 record since taking over from Bryan Price. "They give great effort win or lose."

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Lately, there's been a lot more winning for the Reds, although they remain 4 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Pirates.

Both teams are likely to be sellers rather than buyers as the trading deadline approaches, yet the Pirates and the Reds both have goals to accomplish the rest of the way. The Pirates are nine games behind the division-leading Cubs, but they could climb back into wild-card contention if they keep their recent surge going.

"We know what we're capable of in here," Pittsburgh third baseman Colin Moran told reporters following the sweep of Milwaukee. "It's nice to get things clicking, going, and hopefully keep it going."

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The postseason isn't a realistic goal for the Reds, but they're showing they've got plenty of core pieces in place with Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett, Jose Peraza, Tucker Barnhart and Scott Schebler to enjoy a much-better 2019.

Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon (6-7), who starts Friday, was roughed up for six runs and eight hits in six innings the last time he faced the Reds, on May 22, but he's allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his last eight starts while lowering his ERA to 3.91.

Reds right-hander Tyler Mahle (7-7) was 4-0 with a 2.04 ERA in his previous seven starts before making his worst start of the season, a 19-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians on July 11 in which he gave up five earned runs and six hits in 2 1-3 innings. His only start against the Pirates this season was a 5-0 loss on April 8.

Both teams had reasons to enjoy the All-Star Game on Tuesday. Pirates closer Felipe Vasquez, the team's only All-Star representative, regularly hit 100 mph while throwing a scoreless relief inning, striking out two.

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Gennett, the Reds' second baseman, hit a dramatic two-run, game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth off Seattle Mariners closer Edwin Diaz, and first baseman Joey Votto hit a solo homer in the 10th, but the American League still won 8-6 for its sixth consecutive victory.

Gennett, coincidentally, is 10-for-25 (.400) in his career against Taillon.

Peraza wasn't picked for the All-Star game, but he had a club-record 11 hits during the three-game series against the Cardinals, including five hits Saturday and three more Sunday, to elevate his average to .293. He's a .563 career hitter (9-for-16) against Taillon.

"If anybody's not ready for the break, it's him," Riggleman said Sunday. "He'd like to keep playing. He's becoming a special player."

The Pirates would have liked to keep playing too, and, now they'll find out if they can maintain their momentum from the first five-game sweep by any major league team since 2006.

The Reds will be without Schebler, their leadoff hitter, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sprained right shoulder that occurred while he was making a catch Sunday. He has a .319 average in his last 36 games.

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The Pirates have won six of the first 10 meetings with the Reds. Back a few weeks ago, when the Pittsburgh Pirates were losing 31 times in 45 games and the Cincinnati Reds were still recovering from a 3-15 start, it was difficult to imagine a post-All-Star Game series between the two being very important.

But two of the majors' hottest teams will be on the field Friday night when the National League Central rivals begin their three-game series at Great American Ball Park, even though the standings would suggest otherwise, with the Pirates in fourth place and the Reds in fifth.

Despite their recent horrid stretch of play, the Pirates finished off the pre-All-Star break portion of the season with a five-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers and headed into the break on a six-game winning streak and with eight wins in nine games.

Even better was the way they went into the break, with a come-from-behind 7-6 win on Sunday over the Brewers ended by Josh Bell's game-winning double in a downpour as lightning flashed at PNC Park.

"It was crazy," Bell said afterward. "We've got people dancing in here (the clubhouse) and the music's blaring again. There's life back in here."

Advertisement

There's life back in the Reds, too, despite their horrific 8-27 start that could have all but ended their season barely a month after it began. They failed to pull off a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals by losing 6-4 Sunday, yet their 21-10 record since June 10 is the league's best.

"I really appreciate the way they've gone hard," said interim manager Jim Riggleman, who has a 40-38 record since taking over from Bryan Price. "They give great effort win or lose."

Lately, there's been a lot more winning for the Reds, although they remain 4 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Pirates.

Both teams are likely to be sellers rather than buyers as the trading deadline approaches, yet the Pirates and the Reds both have goals to accomplish the rest of the way. The Pirates are nine games behind the division-leading Cubs, but they could climb back into wild-card contention if they keep their recent surge going.

"We know what we're capable of in here," Pittsburgh third baseman Colin Moran told reporters following the sweep of Milwaukee. "It's nice to get things clicking, going, and hopefully keep it going."

The postseason isn't a realistic goal for the Reds, but they're showing they've got plenty of core pieces in place with Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett, Jose Peraza, Tucker Barnhart and Scott Schebler to enjoy a much-better 2019.

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Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon (6-7), who starts Friday, was roughed up for six runs and eight hits in six innings the last time he faced the Reds, on May 22, but he's allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his last eight starts while lowering his ERA to 3.91.

Reds right-hander Tyler Mahle (7-7) was 4-0 with a 2.04 ERA in his previous seven starts before making his worst start of the season, a 19-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians on July 11 in which he gave up five earned runs and six hits in 2 1/3 innings. His only start against the Pirates this season was a 5-0 loss on April 8.

Both teams had reasons to enjoy the All-Star Game on Tuesday. Pirates closer Felipe Vasquez, the team's only All-Star representative, regularly hit 100 mph while throwing a scoreless relief inning, striking out two.

Gennett, the Reds' second baseman, hit a dramatic two-run, game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth off Seattle Mariners closer Edwin Diaz, and first baseman Joey Votto hit a solo homer in the 10th, but the American League still won 8-6 for its sixth consecutive victory.

Gennett, coincidentally, is 10-for-25 (.400) in his career against Taillon.

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Peraza wasn't picked for the All-Star game, but he had a club-record 11 hits during the three-game series against the Cardinals, including five hits Saturday and three more Sunday, to elevate his average to .293. He's a .563 career hitter (9-for-16) against Taillon.

"If anybody's not ready for the break, it's him," Riggleman said Sunday. "He'd like to keep playing. He's becoming a special player."

The Pirates would have liked to keep playing too, and, now they'll find out if they can maintain their momentum from the first five-game sweep by any major league team since 2006.

The Reds will be without Schebler, their leadoff hitter, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sprained right shoulder that occurred while he was making a catch Sunday. He has a .319 average in his last 36 games.

The Pirates have won six of the first 10 meetings with the Reds.

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