NL Central foes will finish a three-game series on Thursday afternoon when the Cincinnati Reds take on the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Pittsburgh is going for an unexpected sweep after winning the first two games of the series including a 5-4 triumph on Wednesday night as a +118 underdog. Cincinnati is 1.5 games out of the second NL Wild Card spot at 75-71, while Pittsburgh has the third-worst record in all of baseball at 54-91.
Wins have typically been hard to come by for the Pirates in this series, with Cincinnati holding a 9-3 advantage so far in 2021.
Reds out of playoff position as slump continuesThe Reds have missed out on a chance to gain ground with other competition in the NL Wild Card race not playing well lately due to a 4-12 stretch themselves, and are reeling following two straight losses to the lowly Pirates. Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas tallied RBI in the top of the first to give Cincinnati a good start on Wednesday, and after the Pirates led for most of the game Kyle Farmer managed to tie the score in the eighth with a solo shot, only for Pittsburgh to win an inning later in walk-off fashion thanks to shoddy defense by the Reds in the ninth.
Rookie starter Vladimir Gutierrez lasted just 3.2 innings, allowing four runs on five hits and three walks while failing to record a strikeout. A struggling bullpen held up for most of the game, but Mychal Givens took the loss for allowing a run while getting just two outs. Joey Votto had a double and an RBI to highlight a slow day at the plate for the Reds, who went just 1-7 with runners in scoring position.
“It’s a great challenge in this game, especially when things aren’t going well," manager David Bell said to MLB.com. “But it’s really the key to how you come out the other side. We’ve done it before. We’ve done it many times before. So that helps.”
The recent slump has knocked Cincinnati into negative territory on the money line for the year, and it is just 67-79 against the spread. Overs are 73-66-7 for the Reds, although just two of their last nine games have gone over the betting total.
Offense hasn't been the issue all season with the Reds averaging 4.86 runs per game while posting a 0.756 team OPS to rank second in the NL. Cincinnati's pitching hasn't matched that level with a below-average 4.37 ERA, including a mark of 5.13 from a bullpen that has been a major weakness.
Tyler Mahle is set to go in the series finale, looking to continue an excellent season as he's 11-5 with a 3.73 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 159.1 innings in 2021. The 26-year-old helped the Reds earn a huge win over the Cardinals last Friday with six strong innings, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out six. Nick Castellanos has been one of baseball's top hitters this year to lead the Reds offense with a .314/.368/.576 line, 29 homers and 82 RBI.
Cincinnati is down a huge bat with Jesse Winker just starting a rehab assignment with a strained intercostal muscle, while outfielder Nick Senzel is recovering from knee surgery back in May. Rookie starting pitcher Brandon Bailey underwent Tommy John surgery early in the year. Key reliever Tejay Antone is also out after undergoing Tommy John surgery, while Art Warren has a strained oblique.
Pirates play spoiler for division rivalAny positive sign is welcome for a Pirates team that is in the middle of what looks like a long rebuild, and they have now won six of eight while causing plenty of problems for the Reds in the Wild Card race. Yoshi Tsutsugo continued his hot streak with an RBI double to get the Pirates on the board in the third before scoring on Bryan Reynolds RBI triple, and Colin Moran's RBI groundout later proved to be the winner in the bottom in the ninth thanks to some great baserunning from Wilmer Difo.
Colin Moran grounded a ball to 1st Base and while the ball was being fielded and thrown to first Wilmer Difo sent it all on his way home to beat the throw and score all the way from 2nd to Walk it off for the Pirates 5-4 over the Reds pic.twitter.com/NHtYTYvXNE— MLB Walk Offs & Game Winning Plays (@MLBWalk_Offs) September 16, 2021
Mitch Keller was solid over five innings, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out three. Chris Stratton improved to 6-1 on the season with a perfect ninth inning, striking out two. Tsutsugo, who has been DFAd by two teams this season, continued to hit well with the Pirates going 2-3 with a run scored and two RBI.
“To win that game like that was really special,” manager Derek Shelton said via the Associated Press, as Pittsburgh legend Roberto Clemente was celebrated around MLB on Wednesday. “To win on a day that’s really important to the city of Pittsburgh, the Pirates, the Clemente family, the island of Puerto Rico, it was really cool.”
It's been a tough season gambling-wise for the Pirates, who are 67-78 against the spread and down a massive amount on the money line with an outright record nearly 40 games under .500. Overs are just under .500 at 67-68-10 for the Pirates after four of their last six games went under the betting total.
Pittsburgh has struggled badly at the plate with an average of 3.68 runs per game and a 0.669 team OPS, both the worst marks in baseball. The Pirates pitching staff also ranks in the bottom three with a 5.09 ERA, including a mark of 5.53 from a scuffling rotation.
Cody Ponce is expected to get the start on Thursday after tossing three scoreless innings of relief last weekend against the Washington Nationals, allowing no hits and one walk while striking out two. The 27-year-old has made 10 appearances including two starts this season, going 0-3 with a 7.16 ERA. Reynolds has been one of the few standouts for the Pirates with an 0.895 OPS, 23 homers and 86 RBI.
Deadline acquisition Michael Chavis is the only Pirates position player on the IL as he recovers from a sprained elbow. The rotation is dealing with some injuries, as JT Brubaker (shoulder inflammation), Trevor Cahill (fractured foot), Steven Brault (strained lat) and Chase De Jong (knee surgery) are all out. Top reliever David Bednar hit the IL last week with a strained oblique, while Blake Cederlind (Tommy John surgery), Jose Soriano (Tommy John surgery) and Duane Underwood Jr. (shoulder inflammation) are all missing from the Pirates bullpen.
- Cincinnati is 9-1 in its last 10 games against a team with a record below .400.
Trends via Covers.com. Pittsburgh is:
- 13-40 in its last 53 games against the NL Central.
- 17-41 in its last 58 games against a team with a winning record.
- 2-7 in its last nine games against a right-handed starter.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Mahle has been the stopper for the Reds this season whenever the team is in need of a big win, and he will turn in another great performance on Thursday against a bad Pirates team. Despite Tuesday's result, the Pirates have been overmatched by Cincinnati in this season series, and will lose big in the finale with a shaky spot starter on the mound.
After a breakout 2020 campaign, Mahle has more than proven he can sustain that level over a full-length season with outstanding stats across the board this year including a 19.7 K-BB%, as opponents have struggled to handle his fastball-splitter combo. This is one of the easiest assignments for a pitcher in baseball right now, as the Pirates are 29th in the Majors with an 82 wRC+ at the plate, nearly 20 points behind the mark Cincinnati is posting.
Ponce is in a tough situation here, as he has posted a 5.64 ERA in his career typically as a reliever and now gets a spot start against a lethal offense. Bet on Mahle and the Reds star-studded lineup to win big here at valuable odds on the run line.
Full-Game Total Pick
Mahle will shut the Pirates down, but even Pittsburgh's limited offense has enough to plate a couple of runs against a woeful Cincinnati bullpen that doesn't have any reliable options for the late innings. While Pittsburgh relievers have been better overall, the combination of the Pirates trading three of their best arms in Richard Rodriguez, Clay Holmes and Austin Davis at the deadline in addition to Bednar's injury makes this not a good bullpen at all right now.
Cincinnati has a ton of lineup depth with standout rookies Barnhart and Jonathan India joining the stars like Castellanos and Joey Votto, with the Reds offense piling up 7.9 runs per game against the Pirates this season. The Reds are built to play a lot of high-scoring games at the moment, and this will be another over against the Pirates.