The last time the Reds and Pirates met, in October of last season, it was the National League Wild Card Game and much was at stake. The Bucs won the do-or-die game by a 6-2 score and sent Cincinnati home earlier than expected before being beaten themselves by the Cardinals in the NL Division Series.
The two division rivals are set to square off in Monday's rematch, which opens the three-game series in Cincinnati.
What was re-established during the Pirates' return to contention after over two decades away from the postseason is a tense rivalry with a fellow NL Central foe in the Reds. Pittsburgh took the season series by an 11-8 margin. How close were these games? Twelve of the games were decided by two runs or fewer.
"Even when we were outplaying them for playoff spots, they always played us tough the four years that I've been here," said Reds manager Bryan Price, who was previously the team's pitching coach. "I anticipate them continuing to play us tough and they turned the corner to get into the playoffs last year and beat us. I'm sure they're very confident in their ability."
Some perceived bad blood developed between the two clubs as Reds and Pirates batters were hit by pitches a combined 28 times -- the most between two teams in the Majors during 2013. There were five different Reds hitters hit 12 times by eight Pirates pitchers while seven Pirates hitters were plunked 16 times spread among 10 Reds pitchers.
"We did develop an old-school rivalry, a little bit of a throwback. It's fun," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The rivalry with the Cardinals has also become significant -- but they're both kind of different. This is definitely one that gets a real good blood flow, your adrenaline's ready -- when they say, 'Play ball!' And we respect them, and like matching up with them."
Both teams enter the series dealing with their own issues. The Reds, who won Sunday to avoid being swept by the Rays, started out this season with a 4-8 record. The Pirates were just handed a three-game sweep by the Brewers at Miller Park.
"It would be a great time for us to do what I know what we're capable of doing and go out there and put some runs up and play some good games in this series," Price said.
Pirates: Starters in for the long haul
After Charlie Morton's seven-inning outing on Sunday, Pirates starters have gone at least six innings in 10 of the team's 12 games. In the only two exceptions, Edinson Volquez went 5 2/3 innings on April 6, and Monday starter Wandy Rodriguez five innings on April 9.
"That's really good," Hurdle said, mindful of the bullpen flexibility he gets from the starters' endurance. "Little things can build into big ones. There is a carry-over benefit from having your starters go long."
Reds: Bailey needs to hold a lead
Reds pitcher Homer Bailey will be making his third start of the season when he faces Rodriguez in the series opener. Bailey doesn't have much momentum going as he is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA through two starts vs. the Cardinals.
The common issue in his previous starts was that Bailey gave back early leads. He had a 3-0 first-inning lead in his first start and a 4-0 lead after the second inning of the second start. Both leads were blown quickly.
Lifetime vs. the Pirates, Bailey is 8-5 with a 2.91 ERA in 16 games, which included a no-hitter at PNC Park on Sept. 28, 2012.
• The Pirates have not scored first since the first of what now is a six-game-old road trip.
• All four hits the Pirates got in their 4-1 loss on Sunday were singles, already the third time in 12 games that they have not had an extra-base hit.
• Jay Bruce snapped an 0-for-10 skid with a fifth-inning double on Sunday. Bruce also drew four walks in the game for the first time in his career.