That's because Pittsburgh, despite being well out of contention, went toe to toe with the best team in baseball, the Atlanta Braves, and split a four-game series, including a 7-5 win Thursday
"Just keeping that energy all series. That series felt like a playoff series to me," Pirates third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes, who drove in nine runs while playing in three games in the series, told AT&T Sportsnet. "Just good, clean baseball on both sides. We're a really good team. On any given night, we can beat anyone.
Pittsburgh is 5-2 against the Reds, including a sweep of four games the last time they met, April 20-23 at PNC Park
Cincinnati, unlike the Pirates, is over .500, and that is good enough to be in contention in the National League Central. But things have been spiraling downward
The Reds figuratively had their tongues hanging out after a 5-4 loss to Miami on Wednesday, their 27th game in 28 days. They have lost two in a row and eight of nine, and they are pointing to fatigue
In particular, the Cincinnati bullpen seemed to need the break of a day off Thursday. Over the past nine games, the Reds' relievers are 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA and have worked more than three innings six times
"Some of it's to be expected, and for me not alarming," Reds manager David Bell said. "So I think off days will really help to get a reset, mentally and physically for our guys in the bullpen, their arms
"The bottom line is they are doing a great job of doing everything they can to stay strong and continue to help us win games. And when you do that, you come out of it, and you get a breather naturally with the schedule, and that'll help a lot.
In the opener, Cincinnati left-hander Andrew Abbott (6-3, 2.93 ERA) is scheduled to start opposite Pittsburgh right-hander Johan Oviedo (6-11, 4.18)
Abbott, who has not faced the Pirates, will be making his 12th major-league start in a strong rookie season
On Saturday against Washington, Abbott had one of his biggest hiccups. He took his first loss since July 15, allowing six runs, nine hits and a career-high five walks in 5 2/3 innings
"It's one of those days in baseball where you don't have it," Abbott said. "It's going from (attempting to) dominate to just going out and trying to compete as long as I could for the team to give the bullpen a break.
Oviedo is on a roll. He is 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA over his past three games, all quality starts. He also has been a boon to the bullpen - he has reached seven innings six times
That includes his last time out when he pitched seven shutout innings Sunday in a win at Milwaukee
"Johan was really good," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. "That's a good lineup, and he kept them off balance the entire game.
Oviedo is 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA in seven career games, four of them starts, against the Reds
--Field Level Medi