The Pirates and Reds will continue to jockey for postseason positioning when they close out their three-game series on Sunday -- but it won't be the last the two rivals see of each other.
In splitting the first two games of the series at PNC Park, the Pirates remain one game ahead of the Reds for the first National League Wild Card spot. Not only do the teams meet again for a season-ending three-game set in Cincinnati next weekend, but if the postseason started today, they would clash in the winner-take-all NL Wild Card game.
That's a fate both clubs would like to avoid and, with that in mind, each team will take the field Sunday aiming to notch a series victory and cut into the Cardinals' lead in the NL Central. St. Louis currently leads Pittsburgh by two games and Cincinnati by three.
As far as simply clinching a postseason berth, the Pirates have a magic number of three, while the Reds sit at four. Only the Nationals remain in contention to overtake one of the NL Central teams for a Wild Card spot, and with Washington playing a doubleheader Sunday after being rained out Saturday night, the Pirates could clinch a playoff spot with a win and two Nationals losses.
Cincinnati will hope to improve its division title hopes by calling on consistent right-hander Bronson Arroyo in the series finale. The Pirates, also hoping to make up ground in the Central, or at least better their chances of earning home-field advantage in a potential Wild Card showdown, will counter with Jeff Locke.
Arroyo enters searching for his first win in nearly a month. The veteran righty is winless in his last four starts, despite allowing just two earned runs in each of his last three outings. Through it all, Arroyo is still 13-11 with a respectable 3.56 ERA. He has notched double-digit win totals in six of his eight seasons with Cincinnati, finishing with exactly nine victories in each of the other two seasons.
"He's always been pretty good. I can't say he is any better this year than in years' past," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He's one of the most consistent and dependable guys that I've seen. How many years has he won 12 or more or 15 or more, and 200 innings? He hasn't missed a start. I don't think many guys can say that. He's Mr. Dependable, plus he's the guy that shows our young staff the way to go or how to go about it."
Locke, meanwhile, has struggled since a very impressive start to the season. The 25-year-old southpaw started 9-2 with a 2.11 ERA through July 21, but is just 1-4 with a 5.90 ERA in 10 starts since.
Reds: Choo day to day; Hamilton to start in center
With Shin-Soo Choo dealing with a jammed left thumb, speedster Billy Hamilton is expected to start in his place in center field for Sunday's series finale.
Choo, who injured the thumb while sliding into first base in the ninth inning of Friday's series-opening victory, sat out Saturday's contest as well. Though Choo was replaced by Derrick Robinson on Saturday, when the Reds went up against veteran starter A.J. Burnett, Baker said he plans to turn to Hamilton on Sunday versus Locke.
"I thought Robinson could handle Burnett better," Baker said prior to Saturday's game. "I've got to bring Hamilton along slowly and [against] who I think he can hit the best. Right now, you've got a wily veteran facing a kid. Hamilton will play [Sunday]. I've got a kid facing a kid."
In his first career start on Wednesday, Hamilton went 3-for-4 with two walks, a double, four stolen bases, an RBI and two runs scored.
As for Choo, he was scheduled to visit with a doctor late Saturday, but said he hopes the injury will keep him sidelined just a couple days at most.
Pirates: Hurdle taking closer situation day by day
If the Pirates take a close lead into the ninth inning on Sunday, it'll likely be Jason Grilli coming out of the bullpen to try to shut the door.
With Mark Melancon blowing save opportunities on Wednesday and Friday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle turned to Grilli on Saturday. Grilli, who led the National League with 30 saves before suffering a forearm injury on July 22, pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save since July 21.
Hurdle, however, was non-committal on whether or not the closer role once again belonged exclusively to Grilli, instead saying he was "approaching it day by day."
• Pirates All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen is just 1-for-23 (.043) lifetime against Arroyo. The .043 average is McCutchen's worst against any pitcher whom he's faced at least 15 times, though the lone hit versus Arroyo was a home run.
• Arroyo enters Sunday having pitched 192 1/3 innings this season. With another 7 2/3 innings pitched, he would reach the 200-innings plateau for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. He tossed 199 innings in 2011.