After their surprise run at an NL Central title came to an end, the Reds conclude the season Sunday against the Pirates and league batting leader Freddy Sanchez.
The Reds had won five of six and seven of 10 to make an unexpected late-season run for the division title. They must win Sunday to avoid a sixth consecutive losing season. Regardless of that outcome, they are assured of having their best record since going 85-77 in 2000 and will finish third in the division.
“We were still hoping to play for second place,” Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. “It was definitely a little bit of a letdown (being eliminated), and obviously losing was even more of a letdown.”
The Pirates have long been assured of their 14th consecutive losing season, two short of the Philadelphia Phillies’ major league record. But Sanchez has a chance to make it a memorable season for Pittsburgh by becoming the 25th batting champion in team history.
Sanchez is batting .343, leading Florida’s Miguel Cabrera by three points. Pirates manager Jim Tracy said Sanchez will play Sunday.
“We’ll monitor the at-bats going on here and in Florida, but I know Freddy and he is not interested in backing into anything,” Tracy said. “He’s going to play, and if he gets a hit he forces the other guy to get three or four hits.”
Pittsburgh has the most batting champions in league history, but hasn’t had one since Bill Madlock batted .323 in 1983. Sanchez also needs two hits to join Jack Wilson (2004) as the only Pirates players to get 200 hits in a season since 1978.
Sanchez is 3-for-7 against Cincinnati’s Matt Belisle (2-0, 4.24 ERA), who will be making his second straight start after 28 relief appearances. The right-hander gave up three hits and five walks in 3 2-3 innings of a 5-3 win over the Florida Marlins on Tuesday.
Belisle 3-1 with a 6.28 ERA in 12 career relief appearances against the Pirates.
Pittsburgh counters with Shane Youman (0-2, 4.30), who makes his third career start. The 26-year-old rookie left-hander’s last appearance was in relief, allowing one hit in two scoreless innings of a 7-6 loss to the Houston Astros on Wednesday.
Youman’s first major league appearance was a start against the Reds on Sept. 10, when he gave up three runs and five hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 4-2 loss.
By winning Saturday, the Pirates gave themselves a chance to avoid losing more games than the 95 they lost last season—a record that led to manager Lloyd McClendon’s firing in early September. A victory would give them a winning record after the All-Star break for the first time since 1992, the season of their last division title.