What once appeared to be a dream season has turned a bit nightmarish for Clint Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Bucs are going to get back into serious playoff contention in the National League, they'll have to make hay this week in Cincinnati for a 3-game series with the division-leading Reds.
Tuesday's second game of the set gets underway at 7:10 p.m. (ET) when Mike Leake is the scheduled starter for Cincinnati. The Reds opened on a -145 line for the game against Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia, and oddsmakers started the contest with an 8½-run total.
This series begins a 7-game road trip for the Pirates who will be in Chicago for a 4-game, wrap-around series with the Cubs this weekend. Pittsburgh had won just two of its last nine games entering Monday's series opener, and gone 14-25 since Aug. 28 when the Pirates were a season-best 16 games above .500 (58-42).
Game 1 of the series was still pending with the Reds solid $1.65 favorites behind Mat Latos who was squaring off against Wandy Rodriguez for the fourth time this season, two of those matchups when Rodriguez was still pitching for the Houston Astros.
Speaking of the Astros, they play a role for both teams in this preview. Correia faced Houston his last time out and tossed six solid innings while allowing just a run on four hits of a 6-3 Pittsburgh win to cash a -190 line for Bucs backers. That assignment followed a couple of long relief outings for the right-hander, and Tuesday will be his third start vs. Cincinnati this season. The Pirates split the first two, one each at PNC Park and Great American Ball Park, with Correia combining for 12 innings and surrendering eight earned runs.
The former Cal Poly star has endured his share of trouble with several hitters in the Reds order over the years; the group has batted a collective .295 against Correia while popping 10 long balls.
Cincinnati is enjoying a comfortable 8.5-game lead atop the NL Central, the largest advantage of any division leader, but has been slowed so far in September with a 3-5 record. The Reds started this homestand by losing 3-game sets to the Phillies and Astros, with Houston's series triumph its first road series win since early June at the White Sox. The Astros were also able to win their two games by knocking down Cincinnati's top two hurlers, closer Aroldis Chapman and Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto.
Leake was pounded in one of the setbacks to Philadelphia who scored six times before chasing the former Arizona State star in the third inning. The defeat stopped a short 2-game winning streak for Leake who has helped the Reds to a 7-4 record in his 11 outings since the all-star break.
He'll be seeing the Pirates for a fourth time this season on Tuesday, winning one, losing another and taking a no-decision in the third that ultimately went into the loss column for the Reds.
Cincinnati hasn't had much of a home-field advantage over Pittsburgh since Great American Ball Park opened in 2003. The Reds are 41-40 in that span, and the clubs have split the first six games played on this diamond in 2012. The 'over' swept a 3-game series in Cincinnati back in June while an early-August set cashed one 'under' ticket along with a pair of 'pushes.'
The Reds have a couple of injury concerns with 3B Scott Rolen and SS Zack Cozart both questionable for Monday's game due to back issues. Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker is also questionable for Game 1 with a back injury. Bettors will want to keep an eye on the Don Best Pro Odds for updates as the series progresses.