The Cincinnati Reds, clawing for a National League wild-card spot, looked to have a schedule advantage with nine games against the Pittsburgh Pirates down the final stretch.
Going into the second game of a series Wednesday in Pittsburgh, that advantage doesn’t look so big now.
The Reds (75-70) had beaten the Pirates (53-91) five straight games and in nine of their first 10 meetings this season before Tuesday. Then they spotted Pittsburgh a six-run lead before a comeback against the Pirates bullpen fell short in a 6-5 loss.
Cincinnati has lost three straight and eight of 12 this month. It would appear the Reds are not only in danger of missing the playoffs, but also perhaps of falling under .500.
It doesn’t help that with Tuesday’s loss they dropped to 1-26 when trailing by three or more runs after five innings, according to AT&T Sportsnet.
Cincinnati manager David Bell remains buoyed by the fact that his club has a large say in where it finishes.
“We have our challenges, our work cut out for us. But this is what you dream of. This is what you want, to be in this position. You would take this every time,” Bell said. “The idea is to win a championship, and there are steps along the way that you have to get. We’re in position to do that. We never expect(ed) or asked for it to be easy.”
The Pirates received a blow Tuesday when reliever David Bednar was placed on the 10-day IL because of a right oblique injury. Bednar (3-1, 2.18 ERA, three saves), in his first season with Pittsburgh, seemed to thrive in high-leverage situations and is a strong candidate to become the team’s closer.
On Wednesday, Reds right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez (9-6, 4.05 ERA) is scheduled to start against Pittsburgh right-hander Mitch Keller (4-11, 6.29).
Gutierrez leads National League rookies with nine wins and is in the top 10 in ERA, strikeouts, starts, innings pitched, opponent batting average (.248) and WHIP (1.30) even though he did not get promoted to the major leagues until May 28.
His last time out, last Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs, he did not get a decision after allowing one run and two hits in five innings, with six strikeouts and two walks.
In his only start against Pittsburgh, Aug. 7, Gutierrez picked up the win when he gave up one run and six hits in six innings, with two walks and six strikeouts.
Keller, who will be making his 20th start, is running short of opportunities to prove he is a reliable part of the Pirates’ future. Since a stint with Triple-A Indianapolis, he is 1-4with a 5.30 ERA in seven starts.
Last Wednesday, he got the loss against Detroit, giving up four runs and 10 hits in five innings, with one walk and six strikeouts.
“In some situations, I thought I made pretty good pitches and balls found holes and just didn’t go my way,” Keller said. “But, looking back, I told (catcher Jacob) Stallings after I got taken out, ‘I don’t think I’d change anything that we did.’ We executed our game plan, and things just didn’t go our way.”
Keller is 0-3 with an 8.86 ERA in five career starts against Cincinnati, including losses in both starts he made against the Reds this year.
–Field Level Media