The Cincinnati Reds have been nearly unbeatable for the last month, but only now do they have a chance to create some breathing room in the division race.
The Reds look to further extend their lead atop the NL Central on Saturday night when they continue their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates .
Cincinnati has built the best record in the majors with an impressive run over the last month. The Reds (65-41) improved to 21-3 since July 6 with Friday's 3-0 win and are 24 games over .500 for the first time since 1999.
Mat Latos gave up four hits while pitching into the eighth inning, and he helped his own cause with a two-run homer in the fifth. Chris Heisey opened the scoring with an inside-the-park home run in the second."It was Latos' night, hitting and pitching," manager Dusty Baker said.
The Reds have gained 6 1/2 games on the Pirates (60-45) during their surge, moving a season-high 4 1/2 games in front of them atop the division. Looking to extend that lead, the Reds will have some additional help in their lineup.
Second baseman Brandon Phillips , who has missed the last three games with a strained left calf, should start Saturday, while Jay Bruce is also expected back in the starting lineup after Baker opted to play matchups against Wandy Rodriguez .
Bruce has enjoyed success against Pirates starter James McDonald (10-5, 3.38 ERA), going 6 for 16 with a homer, triple and a double against the right-hander.
Phillips, who is hitting .384 with 15 RBIs over his last 19 games, is 6 for 18 against McDonald.
Pittsburgh wasn't dwelling on the missed opportunity to cut into the deficit. While the Reds have been baseball's best team of late, the Pirates have won 11 of 16 even with Friday's defeat."I'm not happy that we lost but this is a great experience for us," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We played the hottest team in baseball at their home park in front of a sellout crowd. It is what you need to do to take the next step. The next step is to win."
McDonald will try to help the Pirates avoid another defeat, although he has lost his last two starts and has given up at least five runs in each of the last four. In five innings against Houston on Sunday, he allowed five runs and walked a career-high seven in a 9-5 loss.
"The last couple outings have been rough," McDonald said. "I think every year I've pitched, I've been in the same situation where you have to fight your way out of a couple of rough starts. I've got some work ahead of me."
McDonald has been sharp in two starts versus the Reds this season. Over those outings - both at home in May - he gave up one run and 11 hits in 14 1-3 innings. He is 5-1 with a 2.31 ERA in 10 appearances - seven starts - in his career against Cincinnati.
Mike Leake (4-7, 4.44) looks to leave a shaky end to July behind as he gets the ball for the Reds.
Leake allowed five runs, five hits and three walks in 1 2-3 innings of an 11-5 loss to San Diego on Monday. It was the second time in four starts he gave up at least five runs. In the other two, he surrendered two runs in each.
The right-hander is winless in two starts against the Pirates this year, going 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA and losing to McDonald in May. He went seven innings in each.
|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) -- Scott Rolen had quite an eventful trip around the bases. The result was worth it.
Rolen hustled for a triple and rushed home on an infield out for the go-ahead run in the eighth inning as the Cincinnati Reds won their fifth straight game, 5-4 over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night.
Rolen began the eighth against Jared Hughes (2-1) with a line drive off the right-center field wall that barely eluding Pittsburgh All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen . Rolen, who's in his 16th major league season, beat the relay with a headfirst slide into third base.
"I was just hoping he wouldn't catch it. I haven't had too much luck in that part of the field. I was running hard. It was probably a gamble with nobody out," he said.
Rolen immediately took off for home when the next batter, Todd Frazier , bounced the ball high off the plate.
"I was thinking I was dead the whole way," said Rolen, who earlier had a two-run single. "That's a miserable 90 feet. You know you're going to have to dive or crash into something. I saw it, I read it, and I felt like I would make it. If I hadn't, we'd be doing this same interview, but for a different reason. It worked out."
Pitcher Jared Hughes (2-1) thought about trying to nail Rolen.
"I looked, but I realized I didn't have a grip," Hughes said. "I didn't want to throw it over (catcher Michael McKenry 's) head, so I made sure to get the out."
Manager Dusty Baker had no problem with Rolen's decisions.
"He's one of the best baserunners in the game," Baker said. "He's always alert, always trying to take that extra base."
The Reds have won 15 of 16 and opened a 5 1/2-game lead over Pittsburgh in the NL Central.
"This is a playoff atmosphere every day - close games every day," Baker said.
Jonathan Broxton (1-0), acquired on Tuesday from Kansas City, pitched a scoreless eighth for the win. Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 25th save.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle was ejected in the top of the second after both benches were warned following the second Pirates batter to be hit by a pitch in two nights.
"That was a topic of discussion," Hurdle said. "There was no warning before the game. I just wanted the game to go on."
Mike Leake plunked Josh Harrison with two outs, no one on base and the Reds leading 2-1. Harrison and Leake briefly exchange words, prompting plate umpire Brian Gorman to issue the warnings against further trouble. Hurdle came out to discuss the decision and was ejected - for the third time this season - when the talk grew more heated.
On Friday night, Chapman hit McCutchen with two outs in the ninth.
The Reds capitalized on an error to take a 2-0 lead in the first. Zack Cozart led off with a single, Drew Stubbs bunted up the third-base line for a hit and both runners advanced on third baseman Pedro Alvarez 's throwing error, setting up Rolen's two-out, two-run single.
McKenry led off Pittsburgh's second with his 11th homer of the season. The Pirates tied the game in the third on Alex Presley 's leadoff triple and Neil Walker 's sacrifice fly.
The Reds regained their two-run lead in the fourth on one-out singles by Stubbs and Jay Bruce , Ryan Ludwick 's RBI line-drive double off the wall down the left-field line and Frazier's infield single.
Josh Harrison cut Cincinnati' lead to 4-3 with his third homer of the season in the fourth.
Pittsburgh got its own break to tie it in the sixth. Garrett Jones moved from second to third on Leake's wild pitch while striking out Alvarez, and Travis Snider hit a sacrifice fly.
Both starting pitchers lasted six innings and had seven strikeouts and a walk. Leake allowed six hits and four runs while James McDonald gave up seven hits and three earned runs.
NOTES: RHP Kevin Correia will start for the Pirates on Aug. 8 against Arizona in Pittsburgh, the team's concession to playing 20 games in 20 days, Hurdle said. Correia made his first relief appearance of the season on July 29 after 19 starts. ... Reds 2B Brandon Phillips was a late scratch from the starting lineup. Phillips has missed four starts with a strained left calf. Phillips probably won't play in Sunday's series finale, Baker said.