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Pittsburgh Pirates (88-73) at Cincinnati Reds (75-86)
Sunday, September 28 - 1:10 PM EST
Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, Ohio
The Pittsburgh Pirates might have thought they lost a chance to claim their first National League Central title since 1992 after a tough loss to the Cincinnati Reds in their last contest. However, the Pirates will try to win and hope for some help on Sunday as they face the Reds in the rubber match of a three-game road set. Pittsburgh entered Saturday a game behind St. Louis in the division, but saw its hopes of pulling even dashed on Ramon Santiago’s 10th inning, walk-off grand slam.
The Pirates caught a break later in the day as league-worst Arizona downed the Cardinals, meaning Pittsburgh needs a win and a St. Louis loss in the regular-season finale to force a one-game playoff in order to determine a division champion. The Reds, who are 24-42 since the All-Star break and can do no better than match their worst second-half win total in team history (25 in 1933), snapped a club-record 45-game losing streak when they allowed at least six runs in a game in Saturday’s 10-6 thriller. Both teams will likely be without key players, though, as Pirates catcher Russell Martin is batting a hamstring injury and Cincinnati center fielder Billy Hamilton has already been ruled out with a concussion.
TV: 1:10 p.m. ET, ROOT (Pittsburgh), FSN Ohio (Cincinnati)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Pirates RH Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.78 ERA) vs. Reds RH Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.29)
Cole continued to dominate in September, improving to 8-1 with a 2.94 ERA in 10 all-time outings in the month following Tuesday’s 3-2 victory in Atlanta. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft, who can win five straight regular-season turns for the first time in his two-year career on Sunday, allowed two runs on four hits in seven frames. Cole suffered his first loss of the season in the only start he has ever made against the Reds on April 15, surrendering a season high-tying five runs over six innings.
After matching his career high in victories in his last time out, Cueto has a shot to become the majors’ third 20-game winner after holding Milwaukee to one run on four hits over eight innings in Tuesday’s 3-1 triumph. The one-time All-Star has given up two earned runs or fewer and logged at least seven innings in 21 of career high-tying 33 outings this season. Cueto is 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA in five starts this season against the Pirates – a total which includes back-to-back three-hitters in mid-April.
1. Santiago’s extra-inning, walk-off grand slam was the first of its kind by a Red since Frank Robinson hit one to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 20, 1962.
2. Jordy Mercer hit his 12th homer of the season on Saturday – the highest total by a Pirates’ shortstop since Pat Meares hit 13 in 2000.
3. Pittsburgh 3B Josh Harrison – a Cincinnati native who is on a career-high 15-game hitting streak – trails Colorado’s Justin Morneau (.319) by one point in the race the NL batting crown.
PREDICTION: Pirates 3, Reds 2