The Cincinnati Reds, who will go for a four-game series sweep of the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, can feel their momentum building as they make a charge at a spot in the postseason.
The Reds (24-26) have won four straight and, at the very least, are enjoying the ride.
"It feels sogood to be playing meaningful games, because if anybody were to throw a uniform on and play any sport, be competitive in anything, it feels so much better to feel like you have a shot, to feel like the games are meaningful, to feel like you're playing in front of people that care," Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto said. "It feels great."
The Reds have been dominant in a few areas in this series with Pittsburgh, sweeping a doubleheader Monday and then winning 4-1 Tuesday.
They have outscored the Pirates 16-6 and have struck out 34 Pittsburgh batters.
"I think our team understands, clearly understands what we're playing for right now," Cincinnati manager David Bell said.
Pittsburgh (14-33) clearly understands what it has at stake, too, and that is primarily setting the stage for 2021. Jobs are at stake, and that is especially true with the rotation.
There seems to be a glut of options there for next year, with Jameson Taillon set to return from Tommy John surgery and young pitchers pushing for spots, including rookies Cody Ponce and J.T. Brubaker, along with second-year starter Mitch Keller, who missed much of this year because of injury. Throw in a couple veterans who have struggled this season and it's a cramped group.
"We've just got to get better," Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said. "I'm not so much worried about numbers or how many we have for how many spots. We've just got to get better as a pitching group. The more competition we have, the more talent we have as part of that competition, the better chance we have to keep getting better."
Brubaker (1-1, 5.34 ERA) is scheduled to start against Cincinnati right-hander Luis Castillo (2-5, 3.44) Wednesday, and Brubaker would seem to need to bounce back from his most recent outing.
Last Wednesday in a loss against the Chicago White Sox, he gave up seven runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings, with five strikeouts and two walks.
That left his ERA over his six starts at 6.39.
"I'm still learning," Brubaker said. "I'm just trying to take it one start and one outing at a time, just get better each time."
Brubaker will be facing Cincinnati for the first time as he makes his seventh big league start, and ninth appearance.
Usually, Castillo practically lives by the strikeout, averaging 11.4 per nine innings, which would seem to be ideal for this series. But he had far fewer than that his last time out.
Friday he pitched a nine-inning complete game, a two-hitter in a 3-1 win at St. Louis. He struck out six.
"Attacking the hitters," Castillo said of his first career complete game. "When you attack the hitters, you can set the game. ... That's what really worked."
That game gave Castillo wins in consecutive starts after he did not get a win over his first seven starts. The first of those two wins in a row came Sept. 4, a 4-2 win against the Pirates when he gave up two runs and seven hits in six innings, with eight strikeouts and two walks.
Against Pittsburgh, Castillo is 3-3 with a 3.00 ERA in nine career starts.
--Field Level Media