The Reds and Pirates will have the rare opportunity to position themselves for the playoffs.
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh appear poised for a meeting in the National League Wild Card Game, and their final regular-season series could determine the home team. The Reds are a game back of Pittsburgh going into Friday, and the Pirates trail first-place St. Louis by three games in the NL Central.
Home-field advantage could be significant. The Pirates finished their home schedule 50-31 while the Reds enter the series 49-28 at home. The Pirates and Reds are 8-8 in their season series this year, with the Pirates winning five of nine games at home and the Reds taking four of seven played thus far in Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh needs a sweep and help to win the division, but manager Clint Hurdle knows it can happen.
"We're still focused on the opportunity to win the division," Hurdle said Wednesday. "If it turns out that way [that the division is gone], we want to fight and take that [Wild Card] Game back home."
Friday's series opener will bring an interesting pitching matchup with two capable right-handers. Cincinnati will hand the ball to Homer Bailey (3.40 ERA), while the Pirates will counter with veteran A.J. Burnett (3.39 ERA).
Burnett is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA against Cincinnati this year -- numbers right in line with his season production -- and the Reds have lost all three games that Bailey has started against Pittsburgh. With a couple wins, though, Cincinnati knows that it can change the layout of the playoffs.
"We need to play well against the Pirates," reliever Sam LeCure said. "Not only so we can secure home field for that Wild Card Game. We also want them to question whether they are able to beat us."
With the season series tied, the team that wins two of three this weekend will be host to next Tuesday's Wild Card playoff.
"It gets you to a place where the anxiety [and] worry is out and you just play," said Hurdle of cementing a spot in the postseason. "That's when usually you have your best results, at that carefree spot, when you're playing the game to win, without worrying about playing not to lose."
Pirates: Cutch racks up base hits
Andrew McCutchen ranks second in the NL with 59 multihit games, and the Pirates will base their postseason hopes around the All-Star's torrid production. McCutchen has never played in the playoffs before, but he's hitting .338 in September when every hit counts for the Pirates.
"If anything, we should be more relaxed," McCutchen said of the stretch run. "And it's easier to play on a higher level when you're relaxed, so we should be able to do a better job than yesterday."
Reds: One pair reaches base, another pair drives them home
The Reds may have been shut out on Wednesday, but they can thank two pairs of teammates for much of their production. Jay Bruce (107) and Brandon Phillips (102) are the first Cincinnati teammates to drive in 100 RBIs in the same season since Johnny Bench and George Foster did it in 1977.
And while those two are driving in runs, Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo are getting on base. Votto and Choo are the first set of Reds teammates to walk 100 times each since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose did it in 1974. If Votto and Choo are on base, chances are the Reds will be productive.
• Cincinnati has won at least 90 games three times in the last four seasons, but the Pirates are playing through their first winning season since 1992.
• The Reds have set a franchise record with 1,271 strikeouts this season. Cincinnati whiffed 1,248 times last year to set the previous mark.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.