CINCINNATI -- These days, it doesn't matter if the Pirates get swept at home by a rebuilding Chicago Cubs team or on the road against the Central Division-leading Cincinnati Reds.
The Pirates are no longer chasing the Reds. They're chasing the wild-card spot -- along with several other teams, some mainstays in the race and some who are new additions.
The Pirates' 2-1 loss to the Reds Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park was their sixth in a row, their longest losing streak of the season. They have dropped 10 of 12 and must go 10-10, playing .500 baseball down the stretch, to win 82 games and achieve a winning season. That will prove hard to do if they play as they have over their past 20 games, when they went 5-15.
The Pirates (72-70) remain in the wild-card race regardless of their recent play because of the decline of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals lost their third game in row to the San Diego Padres Wednesday and have lost seven of their past 10 games. The Los Angeles Dodgers, another team in the wild-card hunt, had lost five of their past six entering Wednesday.
The Philadelphia Phillies, who dealt Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton after a 37-50 first half of the season, have gone 26-14 since Aug. 1 to re-enter the wild-card chase. They won their eighth game in the past 10 Wednesday to pull within three games of the second spot. The Milwaukee Brewers, who traded away Zack Greinke earlier this year, had won seven of their past 10 entering Wednesday and weren't far behind the Phillies.
The Pirates have struggled to score runs throughout their six-game skid. They have scored 14 runs in the six losses, an average of 2.33 per game.
They had a chance to add another run Wednesday night but wasted a one-out triple from Alex Presley in the sixth. Presley took off for home with Clint Barmes attempting a suicide squeeze.
"Trying to score a run," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of why he called the squeeze. "Trying to scratch out a run."
Reds starter Homer Bailey, anticipating the possibility of a squeeze, pitched out, and Barmes couldn't lay down a bunt. Ryan Hanigan made it back across the plate to tag Presley for the second out of the inning.
"If it's anywhere near the plate and I put a barrel on it, he scores," Barmes said.
The Pirates got a good start from A.J. Burnett (15-7), who has pitched well against the Reds all season. He allowed two runs in six innings and struck out eight.
"He was able to get out of a jam or two that he got into," Hurdle said. "He gave us the start we needed."
Hanigan's leadoff single in the third led to the first Reds run. Brandon Phillips singled, and a wild pitch sent the runners to second and third. Wilson Valdez's chopper scored Hanigan.
The Pirates have thrown a wild pitch in each game of the series against the Reds.
Three consecutive Pirates singles tied the score in the fourth. Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones singled to put runners on first and third for Gaby Sanchez, who missed a home run by a few feet foul before singling to score McCutchen.
Brock Holt saved a run in the fifth. Burnett walked Bailey with one out. He struck out Phillips before Valdez singled to right. The ball hit off the heel of Jones' glove and the error allowed Bailey to reach third. Joey Votto hit a grounder between first and second, but Holt dived to stop it and throw out Votto to end the inning.
The Reds took the lead after a Ryan Ludwick double to lead off the sixth. Ludwick took third on a fly ball and scored on Scott Rolen's fly to left field.
The Pirates head to Chicago to begin a four-game series Friday against the Cubs, the same team that swept them at home over the weekend.pirates
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 13, 2012 4:00 AM