While the Cincinnati Reds are still comfortably cruising toward the NL Central title and the Miami Marlins occupy the East cellar, the teams have undergone a bit of a role reversal this weekend.
The Marlins will send streaking Ricky Nolasco to the hill Sunday as they bid for their first sweep of the visiting Reds in nearly a decade.
Holding a double-digit lead with 16 games to play, Cincinnati (87-59) appears nearly certain to win the Central for the second time in three years. Miami (65-81), meanwhile, is one loss from clinching its third consecutive losing season.
Neither team has looked the part so far this weekend. After riding seven two-hit innings from Jacob Turner to a 4-0 victory in Friday's series opener, the Marlins reached Reds ace Johnny Cueto for six runs Saturday en route to a 6-4 win.
Another victory Sunday would give the Marlins their first three-game winning streak since July 4-6 at Milwaukee and St. Louis, and their first sweep of the Reds since May 23-25, 2003, in Cincinnati.
They'd appear to have a good chance to achieve both feats with Nolasco (12-12, 4.40 ERA) taking the ball. The right-hander, who opened the season 4-0 before enduring a five-game losing streak in mid-summer, is riding high again. He's allowed one earned run over 25 innings during a three-start winning streak that's included two shutouts of major league-leading Washington.
"I had a little grey cloud there in the middle of the season, but making 32 starts a year it's tough to be good in all of them,'' Nolasco said after throwing a four-hitter against the Nationals last Sunday. "I had some bad starts, not getting deep into games like I should, but you've gotta stay strong mentally. You know it's a grind, keep grinding.''
To keep his run going, Nolasco may need to do a better job than in the past of keeping the Reds in the park. He's allowed two home runs or more - and a total of 11 - in each of his last five starts against Cincinnati, despite posting a 3-0 record in those outings.
Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Scott Rolen have two career homers apiece off Nolasco, and Rolen also has a pair of doubles in his 12 at-bats.
The Reds will counter with Mat Latos (12-4, 3.72), who is 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA and .169 opponent batting average in his last six road starts, and is 5-0 with a 3.23 ERA in 11 outings away from home since a loss at St. Louis on April 18.
The right-hander is also 2-0 in his last three starts overall after giving up three runs over six innings of Monday's 14-inning, 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh.
However, Latos is 0-3 with an 8.82 ERA in four career starts versus the Marlins, failing to make it through the fifth inning in three of them.
Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who had a two-run triple among two hits Saturday, is 3 for 3 with a double off Latos.
Cincinnati is averaging 2.8 runs per game and has yet to score more than five in any contest in September, though manager Dusty Baker is viewing that glass as half-full.
"Actually, this is prepping them for the playoffs, because there are going to be more close one-run games," Baker told the Reds' official website. "There aren't going to be high outputs on offense."