Reds Drop Opener of Final Series

Now locked out of the division championship this season, the Reds chances for hosting the wild card play-in game took a hit when they lost the opener in their final series of the regular season to the Pirates. Now they must win their final two games or go on the road in the one-and-done showdown.

As the 2013 regular season enters its final weekend the picture just got very clear for the Cincinnati Reds: Win the final two games or prepare to take a trip to Pittsburgh. Their bats remained quiet in a 4-1 loss to the Pirates at Great American Ball Park Friday. Homer Bailey took the loss for allowing four runs on four hits/four walks/two hit batsmen while striking out three. He ran his pitch count close to 100 and was lifted after five innings. Alfredo Simon, J.J. Hoover, and Logan Ondrusek combined for four scoreless frames of relief.

Offensively Todd Frazier provided the only Cincinnati run when he cut a two run deficit in half by homering off the left field foul pole in the fourth inning. He also walked and was the only batter to reach safely twice as the lineup was held to five hits.

A St. Louis win clinched the NL Central division championship for them. Pittsburgh's win clinched at least a tie for second place and the top wild card spot. The Reds currently have at least the second wild card spot and could still host the play-in game by winning out. Going into the series it was known that the winner would own the season's head-to-head advantage over the other team which would come into play as a tiebreaker should they finish with the same record. Meanwhile the Cardinals remained tied with the Braves for the league's best record and the right to face the wild card winner in the first round of the NLDS.

Cincinnati could not have picked a worse time to have their bats go into a slump. After the Mets series they've now dropped three in a row while scoring a total of three runs. They'll attempt to stay alive for hosting the wild card game by sending Bronson Arroyo to the hill Saturday to face Charlie Morton. Arroyo is 1-0 with a flat three ERA over twelve innings in two appearances against the Bucs this season. Morton enters the contest with a nice 3.14 ERA over nineteen appearances this year and got a win by tossing five-plus shutout innings in his only appearance against Cincinnati. He owned them in 2011, allowing only three runs in 29 innings, but the Reds came back to rough him up for eight earned runs in ten innings pitched last year.

As important as this series is, a win in the play-in game will make everything forgotten. The Pirates would certainly feel better about their chances if they can return home for it because their scheduled starter, Francisco Liriano's home ERA is almost three runs lower than his road one this season. Meanwhile the Reds figure to send Mat Latos to the hill wherever the venue may be. Johnny Cueto will probably start their season finale Sunday, but should the Pirates clinch early other options could be explored to preserve him for post season. It was just last year that Latos did a great impromptu job relieving the injured Cueto in the first inning of the playoffs and in a win-or-go home showdown it might pay dividends to have Cueto available to return the favor. Latos is indeed a good man to take the ball, but a Reds loss Saturday makes game 162 meaningless.

If the Reds can't get their bats untracked it probably won't matter who pitches. Manager Dusty Baker tweaked his lineup again Friday by moving Ryan Ludwick into the second spot for the first time since he's been a Red and he responded by going 0-4. Baker remains adverse to hitting left-handers Joey Votto and Jay Bruce consecutively which would allow Brandon Phillips in the two-hole. Recently he tried that combination regularly for a twenty game stretch over which Cincinnati went 13-7 and averaged over five runs per game. The bats are there and everyone will soon see how effectively they can close out the season.


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