The Reds have won 13 of 14 to establish baseball's best record as they host the team chasing them in the NL Central - the wild card-leading Pirates - on Friday night.
Cincinnati (64-41) and Pittsburgh (60-44) could both be headed to the postseason for the first time since the Reds eliminated the Pirates in six games in the 1990 NLCS en route to their last World Series title.
Pittsburgh has won 11 of 16 since July 16, but Cincinnati has taken 14 of 17 in that same span - all without injured star Joey Votto - to build a 3 1/2-game lead in the division.
The Reds took three of four at home from San Diego capped by Thursday's 9-4 victory. Todd Frazier homered in a six-run second inning and finished with three RBIs."You want to have big innings every game," said Frazier, who has homered in three of his last five contests. "We had the big six-run second, and everybody contributed. We batted around."
Second baseman Brandon Phillips has missed the last two games with a strained left calf, and it's unclear if he will return for this series.
The Pirates are 5-4 against the Reds this year. These teams haven't met since early June, and Pittsburgh is eager for the chance to gain ground.
"We know when we go in there this week, it's time to win," reliever Jared Hughes told the Pirates' official website. "There's no other option. We're going in there, and we're winning."
The Reds have fared well against Andrew McCutchen , whose .231 average in the season series is his second-worst against an NL club. McCutchen raised his major league-best average to .373 by going 6 for 11 with three walks this week as the Pirates took two of three on the road from the Cubs.
The Pittsburgh star is 0 for 1 with two walks against Mat Latos (9-3, 4.17 ERA), who is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in four career starts against the Pirates. Latos struck out 11 over six innings May 6 in a 5-0 victory in his lone start versus Pittsburgh this year.
The right-hander won his second straight outing Sunday by allowing two runs over eight innings in a 7-2 victory at Colorado.
Latos will be opposed by Wandy Rodriguez (7-9, 3.82), who will make his second start for the Pirates since being acquired last week from Houston. Rodriguez faced his former team in his first outing, giving up three runs with a season-high five walks over six innings Saturday as he did not get a decision in a 4-3 victory."I thought he was probably excited to get out there and pitch," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I have never seen him walk five in a game all of the years I have watched him pitch. I'm sure he had some emotion or adrenaline."
The left-hander is 1-1 with a 6.35 ERA in three starts against the Reds this year with the Astros. He won't miss facing Votto, who hits .378 against him, while Jay Bruce is 2 for 29 with 15 strikeouts.
|July 18, 2012||Juan Cruz||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|July 05, 2012||Alex Presley||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|July 05, 2012||Alex Presley||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|June 30, 2012||Andrew McCutchen||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained left wrist|
|June 25, 2012||Rod Barajas||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left knee|
|May 30, 2012||Charlie Morton||60-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|August 01, 2012||Wilson Valdez||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff neck|
|July 31, 2012||Brandon Phillips||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left calf|
|July 31, 2012||Bill Bray||15-Day DL||Lumbar muscle strain|
|July 31, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||Day-to-Day||Left game - dizziness|
|July 16, 2012||Joey Votto||Day-to-Day||Torn meniscus, left knee - out 3-4 weeks|
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Mat Latos has dominated Pittsburgh on the mound throughout his career.
On Friday night, he also did damage at the plate.
Latos pitched shutout ball into the eighth inning and hit a two-run homer as the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds opened a three-game series against their closest pursuers with a 3-0 win over the Pirates.
Perhaps the only person happier than Latos was Reds manager Dusty Baker .
"It was Latos' night, hitting and pitching," Baker said.
Chris Heisey hustled for an inside-the-park home run and Aroldis Chapman closed out the win that gave the Reds a 4 1/2-game lead over the Pirates.
The Reds have won 14 of 15 and moved 24 games over .500 for the first time since 1999. They are 15-3 since All-Star first baseman Joey Votto left the lineup with a torn meniscus in his left knee that required surgery and 3-0 since second baseman Brandon Phillips was sidelined with a strained left calf. Phillips is expected to start Saturday, Baker said.
Latos (10-3) allowed four hits in 7 1-3 innings. Jonathan Broxton got a key double play to end the eighth and Chapman recorded his 24th save.
Latos hit his third career home run, connecting in the fifth against Wandy Rodriguez (7-10).
"Swing hard in case you hit it," he said about his approach. "That's the best I've got."
Zack Cozart added three hits for the Reds. The series was Cincinnati's first against a team over .500 after five straight against clubs with losing records.
Latos allowed just one runner past second base, none after the first inning. He struck out five, walked three and improved to 4-0 in five career starts against the Pirates.
"Fastball command and getting strike one was a big key," Latos said. "My slider wasn't as sharp as normal. My breaking ball wasn't was sharp, but the defense was stellar today."
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle already had seen enough of Latos before Friday.
"He has just enough to get you with that high pitch, and he can bury a pitch in the dirt when he wants to," Hurdle said.
Broxton entered with runners on first and second. The newly acquired reliever got pinch hitter Gaby Sanchez - acquired from Miami right before Tuesday's trading deadline - to ground into Pittsburgh's third double play of the night.
Chapman struck out two in the ninth. He hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch with two outs.
The Reds already led 1-0 in the fifth when Latos followed Ryan Hanigan 's two-out single with a 367-foot drive into the left-field seats for his first homer of the season.
Asked if he hit a fastball, Latos replied: "You're asking me?"
"I believe it was. It was a blank to me," he said.
Rodriguez confirmed the pitch was a fastball.
"I was surprised he swung," Rodriguez said. "It was a fastball on the outside of the plate. That was a big, big mistake. I was really surprised."
"Wandy was dealing pretty good," Baker said. "That was a big, big blow. Three-to-nothing isn't very much in this ballpark, and 1-0 isn't very much."
Rodriguez, acquired by Pittsburgh from Houston for three minor leaguers on July 24, has lost his last four decisions and is 0-1 in two starts with the Pirates. He allowed seven hits and three runs with no walks and four strikeouts.
Heisey put the Reds ahead in the second when he lofted a drive to deep left field that eluded Starling Marte 's attempt at a leaping catch. The ball glanced off the wall and rolled toward left-center field, and Heisey was waved home by third base coach Mark Berry and just beat the relay to the plate.
"When I hit it, I knew it would be close," Heisey said. "When I hit second base, I saw it hit off Marte's glove and roll toward center field. I didn't see McCutchen close, so I knew I had a chance."
The inside-the-park homer was Cincinnati's second of the season and the second of Heisey's career. He hit one on Aug. 2, 2010, at Pittsburgh. Jay Bruce hit one on June 15 against the Mets in New York.
NOTES: The sellout crowd was Cincinnati's 10th of the season. The Great American Ball Park single-season record of 12 was set last season. ... Reds manager Dusty Baker , assessing McCutchen, said, "If I had to pick an MVP, it would probably be him." ... The father-and-son acting team of Martin and Charlie Sheen was on hand. Martin Sheen is from Dayton and his son is an avid Reds fan. ... Hall of Fame Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman had his head shaved on the field after the game. He told bench coach Chris Speier earlier this season that he would have his head shaved if the Reds won 10 straight games, a streak they achieved last Sunday.