The Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to steer clear of their first 100-loss season since 2001, but will need to break even over their final 14 games to do so.
Facing the Cincinnati Reds six times might not help their cause.
The Pirates will try to avoid losing a sixth straight game against Cincinnati for the first time in more than 12 years Tuesday night when the teams open a three-game set at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh (56-92) set a major professional sports record by clinching its 17th consecutive losing record earlier this month, but despite the franchise’s continued ineptitude, it’s only lost 100 games once in that stretch.
The Pirates will get to that infamous mark again in 2009, though, if they don’t go at least 7-7 in their final 14 games. They didn’t look very capable of finishing on a high note against San Diego over the weekend, dropping three of four at home including an 11-inning, 11-6 loss in Monday’s series finale
“It seemed like we just couldn’t get that one hit,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “We’ve got to find a way. They found a way, and we didn’t.”
The Pirates haven’t found any way to beat the Reds (69-81) recently. Cincinnati has outscored Pittsburgh 30-15 in winning five straight meetings since Aug. 23.
Another win Tuesday would give the Reds six straight over Pittsburgh for the first time since June 10-Sept. 5, 1997, and would also help them avoid - at least for a day - clinching their ninth consecutive losing season.
Cincinnati eluded loss No. 82 on Sunday thanks to a big offensive effort. Corky Miller(notes) and Joey Votto(notes) homered to lead an 11-hit attack in an 8-1 win over Florida, salvaging a four-game split with the Marlins.
It was the first game the Reds played decided by more than four runs since an 11-5 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 1.
“We’re pretty close, which is indicative of the games we’ve played,” manager Dusty Baker told the Reds’ official Web site. “I can’t remember the last time we had a blowout. All the games have been close. I just wish we had everybody here playing together, having better years and not being injured.”
Zach Duke(notes) (10-14, 3.96 ERA) will get the ball for the Pirates. He’s been excellent this season at home against the Reds, posting a 1.93 ERA while splitting two starts. Cincinnati had better success Sept. 2 versus the left-hander at Great American Ball Park, where Duke gave up five runs - three earned - over six innings in a 5-3 loss.
Votto is 7 for 11 in his career against Duke.
Duke allowed two runs over 7 1-3 innings and tied a season high with seven strikeouts last Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but left without a win for the fourth straight game in a 5-4, 12-inning loss.
Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto(notes) (9-10, 4.41) will try to exceed the nine wins from his 2008 rookie season. The right-hander has pitched well against Pittsburgh in 2009, going 2-1 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts.
Cueto, 6-5 with a 3.86 ERA on the road, yielded three runs over 5 1-3 innings Sept. 12 at the Chicago Cubs, leaving without a decision in Cincinnati’s 7-5 win.