PITTSBURGH -- Maybe it's the lack of pressure on a team that is out of contention as mid-September approaches. Maybe it's one or two players making a difference here and there.
Whatever it is, the Cincinnati Reds have been a thorn in the Pittsburgh Pirates' sides in a weekend series which concludes Sunday at PNC Park. The Reds lost Thursday in the series opener but have come back to win two in a row against a team desperate for wins.
"I feel like when you start to put too much context into a game, you fall prey to the ebbs and flows of the season," said Cincinnati's Joey Votto, whose homer Saturday provided the winning margin in an 8-7 game.
"I feel like the best teams and the best players don't pay attention to those kind of things and are just trying to execute. That's why I think the rah-rah ... doesn't work in this game. You've got to go out and play well."
The Pirates would do well to use that or any other formula that would produce more wins. Pittsburgh (69-71) has lost 10 of its past 12 games and is 5 1/2 games behind of the National League wild-card cutoff, with 22 games remaining.
The series against the Reds (59-82) marks the first four games of 15 in a row against teams that are playing out the season, which would seem like an opportune situation.
Manager Clint Hurdle approached being terse -- something not normally in his character -- after Saturday's loss when asked about any message he was sending to the Pittsburgh players.
"The one thing I do is when I talk to guys, I don't tell you I talk to them," Hurdle said.
Votto isn't sure any lectures or messages are needed if players are accountable.
"In my experience, all players feel they have the responsibility to do the best they can every day, regardless of where your team or the other team is in the standings," he said.
Manager Bryan Price, Votto said, sets the tone for the Reds.
"Bryan is always managing to win," Votto said. "He's never worrying about fairness. He's trying to win every game."
Price is one win shy of 200 career wins.
Sunday, Price will sent left-hander Brandon Finnegan (8-10, 4.17 ERA) to the mound.
Over Finnegan's past four starts, opposing hitters are just 12-for-86 (.140), but he has been the victim of some less than ideal circumstances this season. Five times, the Reds have blown saves in games he has pitched. Twice, he has taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning but wasn't able to complete it.
The Pirates are in a stretch where they are managing their rotation in a way to keep some of their young arms fresher in the hope they make the playoffs, but that won't apply to right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who his scheduled to start Sunday.
Vogelsong (3-4, 4.07) will be making his eighth appearance since he returned from the DL after taking a pitch to the face and having surgery in May, so his season pitch count isn't a concern. He is 2-2 with a 4.26 ERA since he returned.