The Reds opened the last two weeks of their season on Tuesday with the opener of a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the first of four teams with postseason plans on the line that Cincinnati will meet down the stretch.
Two of those teams, St. Louis and Milwaukee, were desperately trying to keep alive their fading hopes. The other two, division-leading Boston and the Chicago Cubs, were hoping to improve their postseason picture by generating as many wins as possible, which could pay off in home field advantage down the road.
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The Reds also had a race of their own on their minds. After sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in a three-game weekend series and a Pirates loss at Milwaukee on Monday, the Reds went into Tuesday’s game 1 ½ games out of fourth place. Cincinnati’s first finish higher than last since finishing fourth in 2014 was in sight.
“You want to strive for a lot more (than fourth place), but we have a shot at the next best thing than where we are,” said manager Bryan Price, whose club has been in last place since June 13. “We should strive for a lot more. We should be talking about getting to the top of the division, but at this point in time, unfortunately, it’s fourth place. It is better than where we currently stand, and we should push hard.”
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After wrapping up the home schedule with the Cardinals and American League East-leading Red Sox, the Reds have three games at Milwaukee and three against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Pirates finish a three-game home series against Milwaukee on Wednesday and Thursday, take on the Cardinals in a three-game weekend series and wrap up their home schedule with two interleague games against the slumping Baltimore Orioles before closing out the the regular season with three games at NL East-champion Washington.
Hot corner: Patrick Kivlehan made his second start at third base Tuesday in place of regular Eugenio Suarez, whose wife was at a local hospital preparing to give birth to the couple’s first child, a girl they plan to name Nicole Anthonella.
“They’re hoping to have the baby (Tuesday),” Price said.
The September roster expansion means Suarez would not need to go on paternity leave.
On the mend: Center fielder Billy Hamilton is progressing in his comeback from a fractured left thumb.
“He’s hit off the tee and played catch,” Price said. “He’ll do soft toss (batting practice) today and some other baseball activities. He hasn’t done any live hitting yet, but he’s close to being able to be activated. We could use him as a pinch-runner. It’s more or a probability than a possibility. I don’t think the first time you see him will be as our starting center fielder.”
Hot rookie: Wednesday’s 7:10 p.m. middle game of the three-game series features one of the major leagues’ hottest starting pitchers in Cardinals’ rookie right-hander Luke Weaver (6-1, 1.89 earned-run average). Weaver’s 5-2 win over the Reds on Thursday in St. Louis was his sixth straight winning start, tied for the longest active winning streak in the majors and tied with veteran right-hander Adam Wainwright for the longest by a St. Louis pitcher this season.
Weaver is 5-0 with a 1.15 ERA, 42 strikeouts and four walks over his last five starts, the first pitcher to log those levels over a five-start span since Dodger left-hander Clayton Kershaw in May 2016. According to Elias Sports Bureau, as reported by the Cardinals, the only rookie with a comparable span since 1913 was Roy Oswalt from Aug. 19 through Sept. 9, 2001.
Reds rookie right-hander Rookie Davis (1-2, 7.71) will be making his second career appearance and first start against St. Louis. Davis pitched the fifth and sixth innings of Cincinnati’s 13-4 loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 12, giving up a home run to Paul Dejong and RBI single by Yadier Molina.