Reds (47-48) @ Pirates (49-44)
CIN Dontrelle Willis (0-0, 3.00 ERA) vs PIT Charlie Morton (7-5, 3.80 ERA)
The National League Central is shaping up as a possible four team battle and the Pirates and Reds begin a crucial three game series at PNC Park tonight.
The Pirates enter Monday’s action, just a half game out of first place, while the Reds are 3.5 games out.
The next 13 games are going to be a big test for the Pirates and this is a critical homestand for them.
The Pirates are 5-1 against the Reds this season and 22-13 against Central divisional opponents. The team plays six straight at home against their divisional foes with St. Louis coming in for a three game set this weekend.
The Pirates then begin a seven game road trip against top contenders Atlanta and Philadelphia on the road to close out the month of July.
— Charlie Morton (7-5, 3.80 ERA) takes the mound for the Pirates and has thrown two complete games against the Reds this season (both on road), posting a 2-0 record with a 0.50 ERA in two starts.
Morton who garnered the name “electricstuff” this year, has been in a free fall of late.
Morton is 0-4 in his last five starts with an 8.10 ERA and has not pitched past the sixth inning, during that span.
Morton last pitched on July 6, giving up 8 hits and 5 runs in a Pirates 8-2 loss to the Astros. Morton blamed his inability to “mix things up” as a reason for falling apart against Houston, so that will be something to watch tonight.
Morton at home this season is 2-4 with a 4.70 ERA. He is 5-1 with a 2.14 ERA against NL opponents this season.
— Cincinnati will counter with Dontrelle Willis (0-0, 3.00). This is a big start for Willis who according to manager Dusty Baker could earn a full time spot in the rotation, at least for the short-term with a solid start tonight.
Willis made his first start with Cincinnati on July 10th, a 4-3 Reds loss to Milwaukee. Willis allowed 4 hits and 2 earned runs in 6 innings pitched. He struck out 4 and walked 4.
Willis is 4-4 all-time against Pittsburgh. He last won in Pittsburgh on June 2, 2005, a 6-3 Marlins win.
— Neil Walker(.272 – 9 HR – 62 RBI) enters tonight’s game with an 11 game hitting streak, batting .447 with 1 home run, 10 RBI’s, 3 doubles, 1 triple and 8 runs scored during the streak. Walker is hitting .381 with 1 HR, 5 RBI’s and 7 runs scored against the Reds this year. Walker has walked 7 times in six games vs Cincinnati.
— Alex Presleyis batting .343 with 1 home run, 9 RBI’s and 4 stolen bases, since being called up on June 28th. After an 0-for-5 night on Saturday, he bounces right back with a 3-for-6 day, driving in 3 runs, which was great to see.
He’s also been a big part of McCutchen and Walker driving in runs of late, by his ability to get on base.
McCutchen and Walker have combined for 14 RBI’s in their last 6 games.
— Matt Diaz gets a second straight start in right field as the Pirates go with a lefty lineup. Diaz is hitting .267 against lefties this year and is batting .417 with 3 homers in his career against Willis.
— Brandon Wood will make the start at third base and is hitting .333 (5-for-15) with 2 home runs, 4 RBI’s and 2 doubles in his last seven games.
— Relievers Chris Resopand Jose Veras are “questionable” to be available to pitch tonight, manager Clint Hurdle said in his pre-game media session.
1. Presley, LF
2. d’Arnaud, SS
3. Walker, 2B
4. McCutchen, CF
5. Diaz, RF
6. Overbay, 1B
7. Wood, 3B
8. McKenry, C
9. Morton, P