The Pirates have helped erase memories of their seven-game losing skid by taking series from the two teams ahead of them in the National League Central in the last week. This weekend, they'll look to improve their playoff resume against a team behind them in the division.
The Reds pay a visit to PNC Park for their final three games in the Steel City this season. Cincinnati, a team whose own playoff hopes have faded fast in the last three weeks, will send Mike Leake to the mound to face fellow right-hander Edinson Volquez on Friday.
Pittsburgh enters the series winners of four of its last six, taking two of three against both the NL Central-leading Brewers and the Cardinals, the first-place team in the NL Wild Card race. The Bucs are two games behind San Francisco for the second Wild Card spot, 2 1/2 games back of the Cardinals and four away from Milwaukee.
"We have a lot of grit," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of his team after its latest win. "We don't have a perfect club, we don't play perfect, I don't manage perfect. I don't know how many games I've managed, but I haven't managed a perfect one yet. But we play. And we believe in each other, and we trust each other. Wherever the game goes, we're going to go with it."
The Reds, meanwhile, have lost eight of their last 12 games, despite taking two of three from the Cubs in their last series.
Leake pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Braves, working around three walks and two hits as the Reds came through in a 1-0 win last Saturday.
"He threw a lot of two-seamers and cutters and mixed in his slider," Atlanta's Justin Upton said of Leake. "He kept the ball down and was getting some calls down. That gave him some confidence throwing the ball down in the zone, and he just located really well."
Volquez is in search of his 12th win, a number that would be his most since winning a career-best 17 games in 2008 -- the only season he was an All-Star. Volquez, 31, got his 11th win in his last start as he worked around 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings to hold the Brewers to two runs. Volquez was with the Reds for four seasons, and he has a 5.86 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP in five starts facing his former squad.
Volquez lost both starts he made against Cincinnati earlier this season, each at PNC Park. He pitched well against the Reds on April 22, allowing two runs on five hits over seven innings. But he was roughed up on June 18, as Cincinnati tagged him for eight runs on six hits in just 2 1/3 frames.
Pirates: Alvarez unavailable with sprained foot
Pedro Alvarez did not play Wednesday after leaving Tuesday night's game with a sprained left foot.
Alvarez, who transitioned from third base to first base in the past month, injured his foot while diving after a grounder on Tuesday night in the sixth inning. He was replaced defensively in the next frame and wore a walking boot in the clubhouse both Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Hurdle said after Wednesday's 3-1 win against the Cardinals that Alvarez was unavailable.
Alvarez has made five starts at first base since the position switch, and he has three homers in his last 13 at-bats.
Reds: Getting more time at first, Frazier comfortable
Todd Frazier, the Reds' regular third baseman, has been seeing more time at first base lately. Frazier, along with catcher Brayan Pena, have both been utilized at first in the absence of Joey Votto, who is still recovering from a distal strain in his left quadriceps.
But since rookie Kristopher Negron began to heat up at the plate, manager Bryan Price has been having Negron play more at third and Frazier at first. Frazier started his third consecutive game there in Thursday's 7-2 win over the Cubs, his fourth start at first in five games.
"As a manager, you have to play the guy that's hot and find the right place for him," Frazier said. "If that means moving me to first base, that's awesome. I feel great over there."
• Jay Bruce is 6-for-11 (.545) with a double, a home run and two RBIs in his career against Volquez. Skip Schumaker is 5-for-17 (.294) with three doubles and four RBIs against the right-hander.
• The Reds have shut out the Pirates nine times at PNC Park since 2009. That's the most by any team at any visiting ballpark since then.
• Russell Martin is 10-for-27 (.370) with a double, a homer and six RBIs in his career against Leake. Neil Walker is 11-for-35 (.314) with four doubles, a homer and 11 RBIs against the right-hander.
• In a three-game series against the Cardinals, the Pirates' trio of starters (Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke) combined to allow just three earned runs in 19 1/3 innings (1.40 ERA), and they had 20 strikeouts and six walks in that span.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.