The Cincinnati Reds helped their own cause in climbing the ranks in the National League Central Division as they took two of three from the first place Milwaukee Brewers, including a 13-4 pummeling on Sunday at Miller Park, but can help their cause even more during their three game series in Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati (33-35) trails Pittsburgh (34-35) by just a half a game for third place in the division as both teams need a push this week to try and catch first place Milwaukee (the Reds are seven back while the Pirates are 6.5). The good news for the Reds is that they are healthy thanks to the return of Mat Latos and Joey Votto, and have also dominated the Pirates this season going 5-2. Tuesday's match-up is also favorable to the Reds as Johnny Cueto (6-5, 1.85 ERA) faces Brandon Cumpton (2-2, 6.06 ERA).
Cueto loves to face the Pirates, with the exception of last year's NL Wild Card, and this season is no different. He posted two complete games in consecutive starts and did not allow a run until the ninth inning of the second game, a solo homer to Pirates All-Star center fielder, Andrew McCutchen. He also struck out 16, 12 in the first meeting, and allowed just six hits.
His counterpart, Cumpton, is no slouch against the Reds though. Tuesday will mark his 13th career appearance, but already he's started three games and tossed three innings of scoreless relief. Since coming up last June, Cumpton has posted a 1-1 record against Cincinnati, but has an ERA of 1.35 in 20 innings. He has faced the Reds earlier this year when he lost his season debut on April 24 to Tony Cingrani 2-1.
Alfredo Simon (9-3, 2.95 ERA) looks for his tenth win of the season on Wednesday when he faces former Reds Opening Day Starter, Edinson Volquez (4-5, 3.89 ERA) , who has won three of his last four decisions. Thursday features Homer Bailey (7-3,4.68 ERA) against Jeff Locke (0-1, 3.98 ERA) in a match-up of pitchers who lost their leads squandered by the bullpen.
Last Saturday, Bailey watched as Sam LeCure allowed both inherited runners to score to earn Bailey a no decision. Locke also earned a no decision on Saturday as he saw a comfortable 6-2 lead go by the wayside in the ninth as three different pitchers, including All-Stars Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, combined to walk six Marlins to send the game in to extras.
While the pitching favors Cincinnati, the Pirates come into the game having won five of their last seven. The Reds will look to cool down the Buccos offense, but will have to face an equally hot Toronto Blue Jays (41-30) team this weekend. The Jays return to Great American Ballpark for the first time since 2011 when they took two of three. Former Red Edwin Encarnacion is second in baseball with 20 homers and adds 54 RBI while former Pirate Jose Bautista brings 15 homers and 47 RBI to GABP.
After the brief home stand, the Reds head west for a ten-game trip that features stops in Chicago (28-39), San Francisco (43-27), and San Diego (29-40). Cincinnati has gone 5-6 against those three teams in earlier meetings this season.