CINCINNATI REDS (8-10)
at PITTSBURGH PIRATES (8-11)
First pitch: Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET
Line: Pittsburgh -140, Cincinnati +130, Total: 7
The Reds and Pirates meet for the second time this season when they open a four-game set on Monday night.
Both of these clubs started the season expecting to compete for a playoff spot, but each team has had trouble putting together solid stretches of games. Cincinnati looks to be improving though, with two straight series wins, including one against Pittsburgh. This past weekend, the Reds won a three-game set at Wrigley Field by taking the rubber match 8-2 on Sunday afternoon. Homer Bailey earned his first win of the year in the contest while C Devin Mesoraco (.515 BA, 3 HR, 11 RBI this season) continued to be the hottest hitter in the league, going 6-for-11 in the series with three doubles, three runs and two RBI. The Pirates are just 2-8 over the past three series, including three straight losses to Milwaukee. They took the game to 14 innings on Sunday as they went for a four-game series split, but allowed a solo home run in the ninth to tie it, and also in the 14th to suffer the loss that was marred by a brawl earlier in the game. Looking to lead Cincinnati to a win in this contest is RHP Mike Leake (2-1, 2.95 ERA) who has been very reliable over his first three starts of the year. Opposing him for Pittsburgh will be LHP Francisco Liriano (0-3, 3.96 ERA) as he looks for his first victory of the young season. The Reds have gone 4-5 on the road while taking three of their past four, and the Pirates dropped to 5-5 at home after losing their past three games there against Milwaukee. Cincinnati took the first series of this season between these teams, outscoring Pittsburgh 18-13 and shutting them out 4-0 in the rubber match. Going back to the beginning of the 2012 campaign, these clubs have been very evenly matched, with the Reds holding a small 21-20 advantage. Bettors should also take notice that the Pirates are a paltry 17-31 (.354) after nine consecutive games versus division rivals since the start of 2012, but are 58-40 (.592) in the first half of the year since the beginning of last season.
Mike Leake is a contact pitcher who has been able to improve his game over the past three seasons and has been putting it all together this year. He is striking out just 5.9 batters per nine innings, but is keeping the ball out of the air with 68% of batters getting ground balls. Luck could also be part of his early season success with his BABIP being an unsustainable .200 thus far. Leake actually faced the Pirates in his last start and threw 6.2 innings while allowing three runs on five hits and one walk while striking out eight in a winning effort. The victory brought his career mark to 6-3 (8-8 team record) against Pittsburgh with a 3.81 ERA (1.27 WHIP), and he has earned a win in each of his past four outings. Leake has not had a loss against the Pirates since May of 2012, or 10 starts ago. With an MLB-tying sixth homer on Sunday, 2B Neil Walker has been hot, and that could continue as he has gone 10-for-31 (.323) with 1 HR, 11 RBI, four doubles and six walks in his career against the righty. OF Andrew McCutchen does have two long balls and 6 RBI against Leake in his career, but is hitting just 10-for-43 (.233) against him with 10 strikeouts. Without closer Aroldis Chapman to anchor their bullpen, the Reds relievers have gone 1-3 while putting up a horrendous 5.57 ERA (6.75 ERA on road), and have saved just half of their six save opportunities. Jonathan Broxton (0.00 ERA, 2 saves) has helped stabilize the bullpen somewhat since returning from injury and is slotted for the closer role until Chapman returns.
After posting an ERA above 5.00 in both 2011 and 2012, Francisco Liriano bounced back in a big way last season, going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in helping the Pirates to their first playoff appearance in 21 years. This season he has not pitched horribly, but has yet to get a win over his first four starts despite going at least six innings with four or fewer runs allowed in each outing. He faced the Reds in his last appearance on Wednesday, going seven frames while giving up three runs on six hits and three walks, while striking out seven. He has had some trouble with home runs though, allowing four already in 25 innings pitched. Similar to his current season, Liriano has pitched well in six career starts against Cincinnati with a 3.29 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, but has gone just 1-4 (1-5 team record). He actually opposed Mike Leake in three of his starts against the Reds last season, losing all three. OF Ryan Ludwick (4-for-11, 2 RBI) has had previous success when facing Liriano, and 1B Joey Votto (3-for-13) has taken him out of the yard once (2 RBI). Meanwhile, OF Jay Bruce has been dominated by the lefty, going 0-for-11 with six strikeouts in his career against the Pirates’ starter. Pittsburgh’s bullpen has been great this year, but allowed two home runs over six inning of work on Sunday, giving away the game in extra innings. Overall, the group is 5-3 with a 2.90 ERA, but has struggled in save opportunities, converting just 4-of-9 on the year and just 1-of-4 when at home. Closer Jason Grilli (4.50 ERA, 4 saves) blew his third game of the season on Sunday and has already allowed two home runs in just eight innings pitched.