Facing Mat Latos isn't likely to help their cause.
Losers in seven of their last nine, the Pirates could be hard-pressed to snap their longest road losing streak in two years in Monday night's series opener against Latos and the Reds.
Pittsburgh (72-67) looked like a legitimate force in the Central as recently as a month ago but has dropped 20 of 29 since Aug. 9 to fall 11 games behind Cincinnati (84-57). The Pirates are 2 1/2 games behind wild-card leading St. Louis, but will need to considerably pick up the pace going forward if they hope to have a chance.
Pittsburgh failed to take advantage of a favorable matchup over the weekend, suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the visiting Chicago Cubs. The Pirates were outscored 20-7 by the majors' second-worst club while batting .160 - including a 3-for-21 effort with runners in scoring position.
Pittsburgh went 0 for 11 in such situations in Sunday's finale, falling 4-2.
"We need to play better - that's it," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I'm not going to get up here and point fingers or this and that or say this ... I'm telling you how I feel - we've got to play batter. And that's it. And they know that."
Things aren't about to get any easier for the Pirates, who've dropped six in a row on the road - their longest single-season skid since a 14-game drought July 29-Aug. 30, 2010 - by a 38-21 margin.
Latos (12-4, 3.69 ERA) is 7-2 with a 2.44 ERA over his last 14 starts, allowing two earned runs or fewer in all but two of those outings. He's also given Pittsburgh fits over the course of his career, going 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in five matchups.
Two of those have come this season. Latos won both while striking out 16 over 13 1-3 scoreless innings and posting a .136 opponent batting average.
"He has just enough to get you with that high pitch, and he can bury a pitch in the dirt when he wants to," Hurdle said of Latos after watching him pitch during a 3-0 loss at Cincinnati on Aug. 3.
Latos, who outdueled Wandy Rodriguez (10-13, 3.71) in that game, also took the left-hander deep for his first homer of the season.
Rodriguez, though, has been dominant in winning his last two starts. He threw six innings of three-hit ball in a 5-0 win over St. Louis on Aug. 29, then scattered four hits and struck out seven over seven scoreless innings Tuesday in a 6-2 win over Houston.
Rodriguez has typically struggled against Cincinnati, going 8-11 with a 4.39 ERA over 27 career starts - 26 of which came while with Houston. He faces a Reds team, though, that's been limited to 15 runs during a 2-4 skid.
Cincinnati most recently dropped two of three to the major league-worst Astros. Jay Bruce continued his hot hitting Sunday with a 2-for-4 effort and drove in the Reds' only run in a 5-1 loss.
"You have these spells in a season. You just hope you time it right and continue to build momentum," Joey Votto told the Reds' official website. "We have one goal in mind. As a unit, we will continue to push towards it."
Bruce, batting .438 with six homers and 15 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak, is 2 for 29 with 15 strikeouts lifetime versus Rodriguez.