Currently atop the wild-card standings, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds know what's at stake this weekend.
Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano goes toe-to-toe with Cincinnati's Mat Latos as these NL Central rivals open a crucial three-game set Friday night at PNC Park.
After managing four runs during a three-game skid, the Pirates (88-65) beat San Diego 10-1 on Thursday to move one game ahead of the Reds (87-66) in the wild-card standings and also one game behind St. Louis for the division lead. These teams play six of their final nine regular-season games against each other.
"We are going to hold our destiny in our hands the next week and a half," Latos told MLB's official website.
Pittsburgh has taken seven of 13 in the series, including four of six at home.
"It's going to be really exciting. I'm juiced," said Reds third baseman Todd Frazier, batting .350 during a 10-game hitting streak against the Pirates. "You're going to feel a little fall atmosphere. Hopefully, it's a little nippy out there. I love it like that. It keeps me in tune. Hopefully, it will be a packed house, and a lot of craziness will happen and we come out with victories."
While Liriano (16-7, 2.92 ERA) is enjoying the best season of his career, he has compiled a 4.41 ERA in losing each of his three starts against the Reds. Pittsburgh, though, has backed him with only one total run in those games.
The left-hander is 8-1 with a 1.37 ERA at home, with his only loss coming 2-0 to Cincinnati on June 1. Shin-Soo Choo is 6 for 27 with nine strikeouts in their matchups, and Jay Bruce is 0 for 8.
Liriano took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before surrendering a two-run homer in Sunday's 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, resulting in his first no-decision.
"He battles and he competes," manager Clint Hurdle said of Liriano, who was removed after 107 pitches. "Francisco's a pro and he realizes it wouldn't benefit anyone for him to throw 130 pitches on Sept. 15."
Latos (14-6, 3.14) had gone 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA in his previous 10 starts before yielding all five runs in 6 2-3 innings last Friday in a 5-1 loss at Milwaukee.
"It's just one of those days where you just have to hit the reset button and go after them again the next time you go out," he said.
Latos is 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 10 career starts against the Pirates spanning 61 innings. He has had his way with several of their hitters, including Pedro Alvarez (5 for 22), Clint Barmes (1 for 15), Garrett Jones (2 for his last 21) and Starling Marte (2 for 13).
Alvarez snapped an 0-for-18 slump with his 34th homer Thursday, tied for the most in the NL. Marte missed the game due to the birth of his first child, leaving his status for this one unclear.
The Reds are coming off a three-game sweep at Houston, winning 6-5 in 13 innings Wednesday. Bruce stayed hot with three hits and three RBIs, delivering a tiebreaking two-run double in the 13th.
The slugging right-fielder is 9 for 17 with a homer and 10 RBIs in his last four games.
Cincinnati also got a boost from speedster Billy Hamilton, who went 3 for 4 with two runs and became the first player since 1920 to steal four bases in his first big league start.
"My job is to steal bases, no matter how many I get," said Hamilton, who has nine steals in as many tries in eight games since getting called up Sept. 2. "That's a really big accomplishment for one game. So who knows what comes next."