The Reds are coming up fast

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Gloom and doom reigns supreme on the Pittsburgh sports scene today.

Less than 24 hours after the Steelers fell to 0-2, the Pirates lost their second straight to the semi-lowly San Diego Padres, 5-2, at PNC Park.

Worse, the St. Louis Cardinals won, which knocked the Pirates out of a first-place tie, and the Cincinnati Reds won, which moved them within 1 1/2 games of the Pirates. Since the Pirates and Reds are set to play six more times, that is hardly an insurmountable lead.

Worse still, at least to some, the Washington Nationals, the hottest team in MLB, took a doubleheader from the Atlanta Braves and are closing fast, but with little time, on the final wild-card spot. And it's possible, the team the Nationals might be chasing for that final wild-card spot will be the Pirates.

It has been the stance of these commentaries for some time that the Pirates are going to the postseason. That has not changed. If the Nationals win all 11 of their remaining games -- they have one with Atlanta, four with Miami, three at St. Louis and three at Arizona -- they will finish with 92 wins. The Pirates would need to go 6-5 with finish with 93 wins. If Washington goes 9-2, all the Pirates -- who also have two more with San Diego and three with the Cubs -- must do in their final 11 is go 4-7.

Washington is not going to catch the Pirates.

The same can't be said of Cincinnati.

Through the giddy highs and the despairing lows of the second half of the season, one thing has become clear. The Pirates are not the same team they were in the first half, when they played at a 98-win pace. Since the end of July, the Pirates are 22-22. Since the end of August, they are 8-8. That speaks loudly to what kind of team the Pirates are.

The Reds, meanwhile, are 25-17 since the end of July and 9-6 since the end of August. They are not a .500 team and were lifted two nights ago by the return of one-time ace Johnny Cueto, who pitched five shutout innings in what was only his 10th start of the season. The Reds are coming and they're coming hard.

The Pirates took the field last night with what arguably was the best lineup in the National League against left-handed pitching. They started two players with an OPS over 1,100, two with an OPS over 1.000 and two with an OPS over .950 against left-handed pitching. The left-handed pitcher San Diego sent to the mound was 8-13 and hadn't won since July 9. It figured to be an offensive feast.

And, of course, it was not. Eric Stults, the left-hander in question, held the Pirates to two runs on seven hits in five innings. The San Diego bullpen held the Pirates to no runs and no hits over the final four.

Morgantown native Jedd Gyorko hit a three-run homer off Jeff Locke in the third inning and against the lightweight offense the Pirates are presenting these days that was enough. The Pirates have scored 51 runs in 16 September games, a puny 3.2 average. For Locke, it was another not-good-enough start and follows what had been his best start in months. It looks as though Locke's final two scheduled starts will be an adventure.

The slumping Pirates continued to slump. Russell Martin and Pedro Alvarez were hitless in four at bats, Justin Morneau in two, coming off the bench, and Neil Walker in one, as a pinch-hitter.

Starling Marte returned to the starting lineup for the first time since mid-August and bunted for a single and was hit by a pitch. On this particular night, though, he ignited nothing.

Eleven games to go. Someone besides Andrew McCutchen and Marlon Byrd needs to pick up the Pirates.

bobsmiziksports


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