As the Pittsburgh Pirates struggle to remain in postseason contention, the possibility of their first winning season in 20 years also seems to be jeopardy.
A.J. Burnett hopes to continue his recent success against Cincinnati and help the visiting Pirates avoid a season-high sixth consecutive loss and three-game sweep at the hands of the NL Central-leading Reds on Wednesday night.
Pittsburgh (72-69) was 16 games over .500 and 2 1/2 games behind first-place Cincinnati on Aug. 8. Since then, the Pirates have lost 22 of 31 and find themselves 13 games behind the Reds after falling 5-3 on Tuesday. Though Pittsburgh is still in the hunt for a wild-card spot, it must find a way to turn things around or a once-promising year could turn into a 20th consecutive losing season.
"We've got to just keep fighting," losing pitcher Kevin Correia said. "We're not on a good run right now, but it can very easily turn around with one game. I think everybody knows that.''
One night after a frustrating 4-3, 14-inning loss, Alex Presley and Gaby Sanchez each homered but the Pirates could not overcame an early 4-1 deficit. Pittsburgh has dropped four of five at Cincinnati (86-57) since winning eight of 10 at Great American Ball Park.
Burnett (15-6, 3.68 ERA) hasn't won in his past four starts and has a 5.50 ERA in his last six. He allowed seven runs - three earned - in five innings of a 12-2 loss to Chicago on Friday when the Pirates committed seven errors.
The right-hander, however, is 3-0 with a 2.18 ERA this season against the Reds. He allowed two runs, three hits and struck out seven in 8 2-3 innings of a 6-2 win at Cincinnati on Aug. 5.
Brandon Phillips and Scott Rolen are a combined 5 for 34 (.147) against Burnett, but each homered Tuesday as the Reds won for the 20th time in 31 games.
"I'm trying to get to 100 wins and the No. 1 seed (in the postseason),'' Phillips said of the Reds, who trail NL-leading Washington by 2 1/2 games. "A hundred wins would be nice."
Phillips is 6 for 18 with two homers in his last four games versus Pittsburgh after going 3 for 28 (.107) in his previous seven against the Pirates.
Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey (10-9, 4.03) got eight runs of support in a win at Wrigley Field on Aug. 10, but the Reds have given him nine total runs in his last five starts.
He has allowed three runs and struck out 18 over 14 2-3 innings in his last two - both versus Houston. He gave up a two-run homer and fanned nine in 6 2-3 innings Friday, but closer Aroldis Chapman allowed three runs in the ninth of a 5-3 home loss.
Bailey is 6-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 10 starts against the Pirates, but has allowed 10 runs in 7 2-3 innings while losing his last two versus Pittsburgh - both at home. The right-hander yielded four runs and nine hits in 4 2-3 innings of the Aug. 5 defeat to Burnett.
Pittsburgh All-Star Andrew McCutchen is 8 for 24 with seven walks (.484 OBP) against Bailey, but 3 for 21 with two homers in his last six games overall.
Jonathan Broxton on Tuesday recorded his first save since coming over from Kansas City while closing in place of Chapman, who will be shut down for the next few days to rest his shoulder.
Broxton converted 23 of 27 save chances with the Royals.