Thursday’s starter Kyle Lohse hit a two-run double and allowed one run in six innings to lead the Reds (79-80) to a 5-1 win Thursday over the Florida Marlins. The win, combined with NL Central-leading St. Louis’ 9-4 loss to Milwaukee, pulled the Reds 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals.
“We’ve got Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo starting the next two nights, so I like our chances,” Reds manager Jerry Narron said. “We just have to win and see what happens.”
The second-place Houston Astros, who have won nine in a row, are one-half game back of the fading Cardinals after winning 3-0 in Pittsburgh to further tighten the division race heading into the final weekend of the season.
The Cardinals have lost eight of nine games and play the second of a four-game set with Milwaukee on Friday, as the Astros travel to Atlanta for three games against the Braves.
All three division contenders have three games remaining, but St. Louis might be forced to make up a canceled Sept. 17 meeting with San Francisco on Monday if the division title is still undecided.
The Reds hope Harang (15-11, 3.83 ERA) can get them closer to the postseason with his third consecutive win after one of his best performances of the season. He went the distance Sunday, giving up two runs and striking out nine as the Reds rallied for a pair of ninth-inning runs to rally past the Chicago Cubs 3-2.
“I thought he was going to have a complete game with 90 pitches,” Narron said. “I looked up there in the sixth and he had something like 60 pitches and 10 balls. I was going to give him every chance in the world to win that game.”
Harang needed 110 pitches for his fifth complete game this season after recording two in the last two years.
The right-hander is having a breakout season with a career high in wins, strikeouts (207) and innings (225 1-3), while matching his career-best ERA from last season heading into his final start of the season.
“I think, by far, he’s the most underrated pitcher in all of baseball,” Narron said.
Harang gets a chance to improve on those numbers in his final push to become the first Red in franchise history to win the Cy Young. He is 2-1 with a 4.68 ERA in four starts against the Pirates, striking out 32 in 25 innings.
The Pirates (65-94) give the nod to Zach Duke (10-14, 4.44), who is 9-3 with a 4.11 ERA in 16 starts at PNC Park this season. The left-hander, though, struggled on the road with a 1-11 record and 4.77 ERA in 17 starts, losing his last 10 decisions.
“I want to get some more quality innings to continue doing the things I’ve been doing over the last month or so,” said Duke, who is 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in five September starts.
“You never want to have a bad game for your last start. Building on what I’ve been doing and continuing it is my goal.”
Duke pitched well, but was charged with a loss in his last outing Saturday, limiting the San Diego Padres to two runs in 6 1-3 innings in a 2-1 defeat.
Despite the superb month, the 23-year-old Duke is completing a disappointing first full season in the majors after showing so much promise in 2005. He was 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 14 starts last season after being called up in July.
Duke lost his only start against the Reds last season, giving up one run and five hits in four innings of a 9-2 loss to them on Sept. 16, 2005.