The Pirates (60-44) have gone 12-7 since the All-Star break, playing a relatively easy schedule, but they've lost ground against the Reds (64-41), who have been almost unbeatable despite the absence of star first baseman Joey Votto. The Reds' 17-3 record since the break includes a 10-game winning streak and sweeps of the Cardinals, Brewers, Astros and Rockies.
That's the bad news. The good news is that they'll continue to be without Votto (knee) for their series against the Bucs, and it's not yet clear whether Brandon Phillips (calf) will play, either.
The Pirates have reshuffled their rotation after an off day on Thursday, moving A.J. Burnett, who pitched a one-hitter against the Cubs earlier this week, up to Sunday, getting Erik Bedard a little more rest and putting the team's best three starters on the field against the division leaders. Wandy Rodriguez will start against Mat Latos on Friday (7:10), James McDonald will take the mound against Mike Leake on Saturday (also 7:10), and on Sunday (1:10), it's Burnett and Homer Bailey. The Bucs will miss Reds ace Johnny Cueto.