With a rare three-game sweep, the Pittsburgh Pirates look ready to climb out of the NL Central cellar - something they’ll have ample opportunity to do over the next six weeks.
The Pirates have 13 games remaining against the fifth-place Cincinnati Reds, who they’ll meet for the first time since early May on Friday night at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh is 1 1/2 games behind the Reds (51-69) in the Central, and can use this series to jump into fifth place by itself for the first time since June 19. The teams meet 10 more times after this weekend.
The Reds lead the season series 3-2, shutting out Pittsburgh in all three victories.
Cincinnati has scored in double digits once since May 13, but scheduled Pirates starter Charlie Morton (2-6, 5.51 ERA) gave up 10 runs while recording only three outs in his last start.
Morton allowed four runs in the first inning Friday at Chicago, then was charged with six in the second without retiring a batter before exiting a 17-2 loss.
Johnny Cueto was set to start Friday for Cincinnati, but was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Micah Owings (6-11, 5.35) will instead make his first start since departing after three innings with right shoulder tightness in a 5-2 loss to the Cubs on July 26.
Owings is 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA in four starts against the Pirates.
Sometimes, all Dusty Baker can do is shake his head.
Baker has dealt with injuries before in his 16 seasons as a major league manager, but nothing like what he's seen this year.
The injuries included the loss of first baseman Joey Votto with blurred vision after the top of the first inning Wednesday against San Francisco.
"It's been a weird year," Baker said Thursday. "I've seen stuff this year that I haven't seen. I've had years with injuries, but they've been hamstrings and knees -- never necks and stress."
The rash of injuries has created situations such as Wednesday's, when the loss of Votto left the Reds with a lineup that included five players who either opened the season with Triple-A Louisville or weren't even in the organization. After Votto left, second baseman Brandon Phillips was the only player who started on opening day still on the field. Bronson Arroyo, who suffered Wednesday's 1-0 loss to the Giants, knew he had his work cut out for him.
"When Joey went out and I saw all the different players behind me who weren't there earlier this season, I figured I might have to throw a shutout to win," Arroyo said. "We keep piling up injuries, and it's tough to score runs without the guys you usually depend on."
Phillips, meanwhile, left Thursday's game because of a sore left wrist.
REDS 2, GIANTS 1 (10 innings): Rookie Drew Stubbs overcame three strikeouts to hit a 389-foot walk-off home run off the left-field foul screen leading off the 10th inning. The Red, who had lost five straight and six of their last seven, snapped San Francisco's winning streak at three games.
--The Reds avoided their first sweep at home by the Giants since San Francisco swept a three-game series on April 5-7, 1999 at now demolished Cinergy Field.
--C Ramon Hernandez, on the disabled list since July 20 after undergoing surgery to clean out his right knee, has started to hit off a tee. "The final test is squatting," manager Dusty Baker said.
--OF Jay Bruce (broken right wrist) plans to play most of September after his wrist heals, but he also plans for the first time to play winter ball -- a month for Aguilas in the Dominican Republic.
BY THE NUMBERS: 100 -- Number of runs given up in the first inning by the Reds through August 16, most in the majors. They have been outscored 100-61. The Astros, with 85, have given up the second most first-inning runs in the majors.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm just trying to mix and match and do what I can with matchups, but with our injuries it is even hard to mix and match." -- Manager Dusty Baker, who has eight players on the DL and has had six players undergo surgery.
--2B Brandon Phillips left the game against San Francisco in the middle of the third inning with a sore left wrist. Phillips was hit on that wrist by a pitch from Washington's J.D. Martin on Saturday. He went into Thursday's game hitting .260 with 17 home runs and a team-leading 75 RBI before flying out in the first inning.
--1B Joey Votto returned to the starting lineup for the series finale against the Giants, fewer than 24 hours after leaving Wednesday's game after the top of the first inning with blurred vision.
--RHP Micah Owings, activated from the disabled list, will replace injured RHP Johnny Cueto as Cincinnati's starter Friday at Pittsburgh. Owings hasn't pitched since July 26 because of a tight right shoulder, and he hasn't won since beating St. Louis 5-2 on the Fourth of July. Owings was 1-0 with a 0.87 ERA over 10.1 innings in two rehab starts with Triple-A Louisville.
RHP Micah Owings (right shoulder tightness) went on the 15-day disabled list July 27. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Louisville on Aug. 10 and was activated on Aug. 20.
RHP Johnny Cueto (inflamed right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 20.
CF Willy Taveras (right quadriceps strain) came out of the game Aug. 18. He was placed on the disabled list Aug. 19.
3B Scott Rolen (concussion-related symptoms) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 8.
C Ramon Hernandez (sore left knee) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 17. He had surgery July 21, and he is expected to miss four weeks.
RF Jay Bruce (fractured right wrist) went on the 15-day disabled list July 12. He will miss six to eight weeks.
RHP Edinson Volquez (right elbow tendinitis) went on the 15-day disabled list June 2. He suffered more pain a simulated game July 31, and he underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery on Aug. 3.
INF Danny Richar (torn labrum in right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list July 3. He had season-ending surgery July 28.
RHP Mike Lincoln (bulging neck disk) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 13. He had season-ending disk-replacement surgery July 20.
UT Wilkin Castillo (torn labrum in right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 21. He had season-ending surgery July 1 and was moved to the 60-day disabled list July 3.