Cruising toward their second NL Central title in three seasons, the Cincinnati Reds should be able to enjoy their first trip to the new ballpark in Miami.
The Reds may be division champions by the end of their six-game trek, which begins Friday night with the red-hot Bronson Arroyo facing the sputtering Marlins.
Any slight doubts about the Reds' grip on the Central vanished this week, as Cincinnati (87-57) swept third-place Pittsburgh while second-place St. Louis continued to struggle.
Their lead in double digits with 18 games to play, the Reds can be more concerned about catching Washington - 2 1/2 games ahead - for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
They won three tight contests against the Pirates, scratching out runs on an RBI groundout and a sacrifice fly in a 2-1 victory Wednesday to move 30 games over .500 for the first time since 1999.
"This was our fifth try at 30," manager Dusty Baker said. "We finally reached it. Now let's set the next goal for 35."
That seems entirely possible on this trip, which includes three games at lowly Chicago after this series against the last-place Marlins.
Arroyo (12-7, 3.66 ERA) looks like a great candidate to start it off in victorious fashion. The Reds have won nine of his last 10 starts, with the right-hander going 8-1 with a 3.03 ERA in that stretch and winning his last five decisions.
He posted his sixth consecutive quality start Saturday, working seven innings in a 5-1 win over Houston. After an uneven first half, Arroyo has been predictably steady in September, a month in which he's 25-12 with a 3.47 ERA over his career.
"That's Bronson," Baker said. "I was telling someone earlier that Bronson's due for seven in a row. It's nice to see him throwing like that."
Arroyo gave up five runs and 10 hits in his 2012 debut April 8 versus Miami, but the Florida native pitched eight shutout innings in his last trip to Miami on Aug. 24, 2011, for his only win in nine career starts against the Marlins.
This outing, of course, will be in a different ballpark. The Reds, winners of 19 of 26 on the road, are the final NL team to make their debut at Marlins Park.
Miami (63-81) has lost six of eight at home and 14 of 20 overall as it stumbles toward the finish line in its first year under Ozzie Guillen.
"I think (Guillen has) had a disappointing season," team president David Samson told the Marlins' official website Thursday. "It just didn't turn out the way we thought it would when we drew it up. That's how life goes sometimes. We never could get our legs under us."
The Marlins were swept in Philadelphia this week, but they can at least feel good about some strong recent performances by some of their younger players.
Rookie catcher Rob Brantly is 6 for 13 with a homer and four walks in his last four games, while Giancarlo Stanton has five homers in his last nine games to match his 2011 total of 34 in 99 fewer at-bats.
Jacob Turner (0-2, 5.29) gets another chance at his first win with Miami after an impressive showing last Friday at Washington. The 21-year-old right-hander, acquired with Brantly in the July trade that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit, allowed two runs in six innings of a 9-7, 10-inning win while working on an 80-85 pitch limit.
- Bronson Arroyo
- Cincinnati Reds