The Cincinnati Reds are playing some of the best baseball in the majors at the moment and are on the verge of winning their fourth consecutive series.
That seems all but assured given Johnny Cueto's success in Pittsburgh.Cueto looks to overcome some recent inconsistency and continue his dominance of the Pirates when the NL Central rivals conclude their three-game set Wednesday night at PNC Park.The division-leading Reds (28-21) have won nine of their last 11 after Tuesday's 8-1 victory over Pittsburgh, as Jay Bruce went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a pair of RBIs.Todd Frazier went 2 for 3 with a triple and a double, driving in two runs the night after helping save a man from choking at a Pittsburgh restaurant."He was ... not Superman, he was Mr. Magnificent or somebody," manager Dusty Baker said.Cincinnati is outscoring its opponents 56-34 during its run, and it hasn't lost a series since dropping two of three to Washington from May 11-13.The Pirates didn't have an answer for Reds starter Homer Bailey -- who threw a four-hitter -- and it likely won't get any easier given their history against Cueto (5-2, 2.53 ERA). He's 7-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his last eight starts at PNC after a seven-hitter in a 6-1 victory May 4.Cueto has allowed one run or none in six of those road outings, and he's 9-1 with a 1.87 ERA in his last 12 starts overall versus the Pirates. His 11 career victories over Pittsburgh are by far his most against any team.The right-hander, though, has lost two of his last three starts. He allowed six runs over four innings in Atlanta on May 15, and after pitching seven strong in the Bronx on May 20 gave up five runs and a season-high 11 hits in 4 2/3 of a 6-3 loss to Colorado on Friday."I didn't feel good," Cueto told the team's official website. "I don't want to use excuses. What happened, happened. I have to get better for the next time out."Pittsburgh (24-25) had won four straight prior to Tuesday's loss. Andrew McCutchen tripled and is hitting .423 (22 for 52) with four homers, 11 RBIs and a 1.223 OPS in 16 home games this month.McCutchen is a .286 (8 for 28) hitter against Cueto, but he has three homers and two doubles.The Pirates, who allowed only seven runs during their winning streak, will look to bounce back by sending A.J. Burnett (3-2, 4.19) to the mound.Burnett has given up either two runs or none in six of his seven outings after he struck out six in 5 1/3 innings of a 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on Friday.The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA in four starts since allowing 12 runs in 2 2/3 innings at St. Louis on May 2. He's 2/3 with a 5.75 ERA in seven career starts versus the Reds, though he hasn't faced them since 2008 while pitching for Toronto.
A.J. Burnett goes for the Pirates tonight. And while he might not be on the front burner now that he's no longer in the Bronx, the switch to the National League has, it appears, cured some of what ailed Burnett last season. Most notably, there's been a sharp reduction in his walk rate, a persistent issue for him over the years.
Specifically, it's been Burnett's fastball. While his curveball numbers have remained steady and his changeup has actually been much less effective, his fastball has been better across-the-board.