If the Pirates (80-78) can win at least once in the series that begins Friday night at Great American Ballpark, they'll achieve a winning record in a season in which they didn't make the playoffs for the first time in 30 years.
The Pirates have had only six winning seasons since 1989, and they reached the postseason in all six -- winning the NL East in 1990, 1991 and 1992 and gaining a NL wild-card spot in 2013, 2014 and 2015. That stretch includes their major league record run of 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012.
The Pirates will play only 161 games this season because a Sept. 9 rainout against Miami won't be made up.
The last time the Pirates had a winning record but didn't reach the postseason was 1988, when they faded late in the season and finished 85-75, 15 games behind the division champion New York Mets, during Jim Leyland's third season as manager.
In fact, if they can win at least once in Cincinnati, the Pirates will wind up with a winning record but out of the playoffs for only the second time in 34 years.
The Pirates could have assured themselves of a better-than-.500 record by winning either Wednesday or Thursday against the Chicago Cubs, but lost both nights. They were shut out by Cubs left-hander Jon Lester (18-6) and three relievers 3-0 while managing only four hits Thursday night at Wrigley Field.
"We had opportunities early. ... We had some opportunities," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "But he (Lester) can make pitches, and he's as good as anybody."
On Friday, the Pirates will send out right-hander Nick Kingham (5-7, 5.23 ERA) to oppose right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (7-7, 4.91) of the Reds, who are finishing the season the way they began it -- badly.
The same Reds team that started the season 3-15 has lost its last five games and 10 of its last 13, scoring only 17 runs in those 13 games, or an average of 1.3 runs per game.
"When you don't get hits, that's called being flat, I guess, because you don't have base runners out there. You don't have any activity out there, and it has that look," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "But they're working hard before the games and they're playing it out to the 162-game schedule, and we're just getting bad results. I don't have much of an explanation for it."
With one more loss, the Reds (66-93) will assure themselves of a fourth consecutive season with at least 94 losses.
A familiar face, but one that's been missing from the majors for two seasons, will be back with the Pirates this weekend.
Infielder Jung Ho Kang, who hasn't played for the Pirates since Oct. 2, 2016 due to injuries and legal problems, will be active for the final three games of the season. It's uncertain how many games he will start.
Kang played briefly in the fall instructional league in Bradenton, Fla., after undergoing cartilage surgery in his left wrist. Before that, he was temporarily unable to enter the United States following a DUI arrest in South Korea, causing him to miss the entire 2017 season.
Kang finally was allowed to return to the United States in April and played 16 games at the Triple-A and Class A level before being sidelined by a wrist injury.
Kang, who is in the final season of a four-year, $11 million contract, hit .273 with 36 home runs and 120 RBIs in 229 games with Pittsburgh in 2015 and 2016. He had 21 homers and 62 RBIs in 103 games in 2016.
"We like the player. We like the upside, Obviously, to add a right-handed bat that can hit 25 to 30 home runs and play good defense, if we can get him back to that, that's a really interesting player," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told reporters in Chicago.
The Pirates are dominating the Reds this season, winning 12 of 16, including the last six.
Kingham is 0-3 with a 12.19 ERA in his last four starts but beat DeSclafani and the Reds 6-2 on July 21, allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings in Cincinnati.
DeSclafani has lost his last three starts, giving up 12 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, but is 2-3 with a 3.65 ERA in eight career starts against Pittsburgh. He is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts against Pittsburgh this season.