The Pittsburgh Pirates and visiting Cincinnati Reds will be in contention for something in a series that opens Monday evening — but it is far from a playoff spot.
The three games between the teams will help determine whether the Reds (60-93) or Pirates (56-97) finish last in the National League Central.
Those two teams also are in contention for last place in the league. Their competition there is Washington (53-99).
The Pirates swept a four-game series at Cincinnati earlier this month but have lost nine of 10 since.
One positive for Pittsburgh down the stretch is the promise of its young starting pitchers. The average age of the five starters is 23.8, with Monday’s starter, Roansy Contreras, the youngest at 22, and Mitch Keller the oldest at 26.
In between are Bryse Wilson, 24, Johan Oviedo, 24, and Luis Ortiz, 23.
In the Pirates’ past two games, against the Chicago Cubs, Oviedo pitched seven scoreless innings on Saturday, and Ortiz pitched one-run, one-hit ball over 4 2/3 innings before hitting a hard pitch count.
“You talk about acquiring guys and developing guys, I think we’re starting to see it,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “Starting pitching is how you build, and we’re starting to build in that area, which is really important.”
Cincinnati has lost seven of its past 10 games but avoided a weekend sweep by the Milwaukee Brewers with a 2-1 win Sunday on Spencer Steer’s game-deciding homer in the eighth.
“Hopefully, that’s just a glimpse of what’s to come,” Steer, a rookie infielder, told Bally Sports.
“Having that experience, to win a game directly for us … the best part is the excitement from your teammates, what it does for our team,” Reds manager David Bell said.
“And to have that kind of success … and contribute to winning a game when we really needed it.”
In the series opener on Monday, Cincinnati right-hander Chase Anderson (2-3, 5.21 ERA) is set to start against Contreras (5-5, 3.68 ERA).
Contreras had mixed results in his most recent time out, a loss Wednesday against the New York Yankees. He struck out a career-best 10 but also gave up six runs and six hits in 4 2/3 innings.
He insisted he remained grounded during that game and expects the same of himself moving forward.
“I just remained focused, no matter the situation, sticking to the plan and attacking the hitters,” Contreras said.
Such unbalanced outings, he said, “are going to happen in your career. You just have to remain focused and mentally prepared for situations like that. … You take the opportunity to grow and learn from them.”
Against the Reds, Contreras is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two career starts, both this season.
Anderson has won his past two starts, including Wednesday against Boston when he gave up one run and three hits in five innings, with four strikeouts and no walks.
That was just his fifth start of the season for Anderson, who is with his third organization this year.
“It is a step in the right direction,” Anderson said. “When I first got here, my goal was to make each outing a little better and build the pitch count.”
Anderson is 9-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 20 career games (19 starts) against the Pirates. He has not faced Pittsburgh this year.
–Field Level Media