For teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, who are playing a season-ending series this weekend in the Steel City with nothing on the line, it comes down to perhaps trying to find an extraordinary performance to liven things up.
One game into the series, the Pirates are ahead on that score.
In a 9-2 win Friday, Pittsburgh’s Cole Tucker hit a grand slam, tripled and scored, and, playing second base, made two stellar, tumbling catches.
“There are days as a big-leaguer where we don’t really feel like big-leaguers,” Tucker told AT&T Sportsnet. “Back in Little League, the game is so awesome and you’re so good at it, and it’s cool to have nights like (Friday’s) to make you want to keep showing up and doing it for (the fans).”
Tucker, a former Pirates first-round draft pick still trying to establish himself in the major leagues, could be replaced as a story line by any player from either team Saturday.
It could be a Reds player. After all, Cincinnati is 12-5 this season, 19-8 over the past two seasons, against Pittsburgh.
Both clubs had lost two in a row coming into this series.
Cincinnati shortstop Kyle Farmer was a late scratch from the lineup Friday because of left abdominal soreness. Reds manager David Bell said Farmer tweaked something during warmups and might not be available for the final two games of the season.
Cincinnati right-hander Tyler Mahle (13-6, 3.54 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Pittsburgh right-hander Max Kranick (2-3, 6.23 ERA) on Saturday.
In an era of being protective of pitchers, it’s been a season of high-water marks for Mahle, who has career highs in wins, starts (32), innings (175 2/3), strikeouts (204) and quality starts (12).
“What is most meaningful to me is that I made all my starts and pitched more innings than I have in a while,” Mahle said. “That is what allowed me to reach 200 strikeouts.”
On the road, Mahle is 8-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 17 starts.
In his most recent outing on Sunday against Washington, Mahle picked up a win in giving up one unearned run and three hits in six innings, with six strikeouts and two walks.
In 10 career starts against Pittsburgh, Mahle is 4-4 with a 3.27 ERA, including 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA in four starts this year.
Kranick will be making his ninth career start, first against Cincinnati. He picked up a win Sunday when he pitched five scoreless innings on the road against Philadelphia.
Before that game, Kranick gave up at least three runs in six straight starts, but Sunday he consistently worked his way out of trouble, forcing the Phillies to strand at least one baserunner each inning.
“I feel like a lot of my outings have been very similar, and I haven’t been able to get out of those situations,” Kranick said. “So I’ve been working really hard on my in-between days to make sure I get out of those situations and breathe and execute.”
–Field Level Media