Alejo Lopez takes his hot bat to the Steel City as the Reds battle the Pirates

Cincinnati Reds infielder Alejo Lopez
Cincinnati Reds infielder Alejo Lopez / Kirk Irwin/GettyImages
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Unfortunately, the dog days of August have arrived for the Cincinnati Reds (46-70). To say the past 10 days have been a struggle for the Redlegs would be an understatement. Cincinnati is just 2-7 in their last nine contests as they prepare for tonight's game in Pittsburgh.

If you're looking for a silver lining, I have one for you. The Pittsburgh Pirates (46-72) have been worse. Since August 3rd, the Bucs are an atrocious 3-10 after snapping a six-game slide last night versus the Boston Red Sox. As a result of their dismal play, the Pirates have fallen to last place in the National League Central and trail the Reds by a game for fourth place.

What can you expect to see this weekend? Not much traffic on the base paths. Pittsburgh is dead last in the NL with a .288 OBP while the Reds' .308 mark ranks 12th in the senior circuit. As if the Bucs' offense was anemic enough, they reside in the basement among senior circuit clubs in runs, hits, doubles, average, slugging, OPS, and total bases as play began Thursday.

The Reds head to PNC Park looking to make the Pirates walk the plank.

Despite the ugly overall numbers, outfielder Bryan Reynolds has posted some impressive numbers for Pittsburgh. The former All-Star is slashing .265/.350/.479 and leads the ball club with 20 homers and 46 RBIs. Entering play yesterday, the 27-year-old switch hitter was the only Pirates player with an OPS+ above 100 (league average).

Cincinnati leads the 2022 season series 5-4 between the two clubs and they split their first meeting in the Steel City during a four-game set in May at PNC Park. Additionally, the Redlegs are looking to capture the season series for a third consecutive year which would be the longest such streak between the two rivals since the Reds bested the Bucs during the 2005-2207 campaigns.

Previewing the pitching matchups: Reds vs. Pirates

Cincinnati Reds starter Graham Ashcraft vs. Pittsburgh Pirates starter Bryse Wilson

Rookie Graham Ashcraft (5-3 3.96 ERA) gets the call in tonight's opener, while Bryse Wilson (2-7 5.93 ERA) takes the mound for the Pirates. If you were to ask Reds Country before the season who would be Cincinnati's most effective rookie starter, few would have mentioned Ashcraft, but that's exactly where we are.

The Alabama native leads the Reds' rookie hurlers in victories, ERA, and ERA+. Over his last seven starts, the right-hander has been excellent. Tossing 42.1 frames, Ashcraft has pitched into the seventh inning in three outings and has surrendered three earned runs or less in all but one of those appearances.

Fellow right-hander Bryse Wilson has been nearly as solid over the same time frame. In 37.2 frames of work, he's allowed more than three earned runs only once and was impressive versus the Reds in July at GABP. Pitching into the seventh inning, he was touched for just one earned run without issuing a free pass in an eventual 5-1 victory for the Reds.

Cincinnati Reds starter Justin Dunn vs. Pittsburgh Pirates starter Tyler Beede

Justin Dunn (0-1 8.64 ERA) toes the rubber Saturday night for the Cincinnati Reds as Tyler Beede (1-2 3.72 ERA) receives the nod for Derek Shelton's club. Let's be kind and say there's room for improvement following Dunn's first two appearances in a Cincinnati uniform.

Acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the deal that sent Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker to the Pacific Northwest, the right-hander has been torched for eight runs, including four round-trippers, in 8.1 innings. The Reds are hoping Dunn can pitch into the fifth inning for the since a May 29, 2021 start versus the Texas Rangers.

Don't look for Tyler Beede to pitch deep into the Saturday moonlight. In his trio of 2022 starts, the right-hander has tossed a total of eight innings. How long Beede remains in the rotation is a good question. Since making his first start on August 3rd, he's posted a 6.75 ERA as opposed to the 3.12 mark he compiled in 23 relief appearances.

Cincinnati Reds starter Mike Minor vs. Pittsburgh Pirates starter TBD

Sunday's matinee series finale will feature Mike Minor (1-10 6.31 ERA) starring for the Redlegs. Bucs' skipper Derek Shelton has yet to announce his hurler for Sunday afternoon. I'll give Minor this, since returning from the IL in June, he's taken the ball every fifth day, unfortunately for the Reds, the results have rarely been positive.

Cincinnati is an abysmal 1-12 in Minor's 13 starts. Additionally, the 34-year-old southpaw has yielded 18 gopher balls in just 67 frames. At this point, with the club 19.5 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals, it makes little sense for the former All-Star to be making starts for the club, but here we are.

Reds infielder Alejo Lopez is receiving an audition for next year's team.

Make no mistake about it, the next six weeks will be Alejo Lopez's audition for the 2023 Cincinnati Reds. If the last 15 games are any indication, the switch-hitting infielder may very well find himself on the Opening Day roster when the Redlegs begin the 2023 season at Great American Ball Park.

There's no doubt that Lopez knows his way around the batter's box. Throughout seven minor league seasons, the 27th-round selection of the Reds in the 2015 MLB Draft has produced an impressive .298/.371/.392 slash line in 1,912 at-bats.

Fortunately, that nice batting stroke has translated at the big league level as well. In 92 MLB at-bats, the 26-year-old Mexican is hitting .283 with an excellent .340 OBP. Additionally, if it's versatility you're looking for, Lopez provides that as well. During his brief time in the Queen City, he's logged time at second and third base in addition to left and right field.

It's doubtful he'll ever become an everyday starter, however, there's always room for a utility player with a special skill set. For Lopez, that tool is hitting. He may never be Jonathan India or Eugenio Suarez, but if a 27th-round draft pick can become the 1995 version of Mark Lewis, Reds Country will consider that a win.

Prediction: Reds sink the Pirates at PNC Park.

The struggle has been real since the calendar flipped to August for these two clubs. Who will be having a blue Monday following the weekend series? Here's a hint, it won't be your Cincinnati Reds.

Look for the Redlegs to take two of three from the Pirates at PNC Park before continuing their Pennsylvania road trip with a visit to Citizens Bank Park to battle the Philadelphia Phillies beginning Monday night.