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Pirates play host to rival Reds

(SportsNetwork.com) - Winning a division title means beating the teams in your division.

The Pittsburgh Pirates will continue to strive for that on Friday night, when they meet National League Central rival Cincinnati in game one of the Reds' three-game visit to PNC Park.

The Pirates enter the weekend having won two of three games against both Milwaukee and St. Louis, which has raised their record against the Central to a still subpar 26-32. But in winning five of their last seven games, the team has gotten strong contributions from its pitching staff, which has compiled a 2.32 earned run average in that stretch.

Edinson Volquez has been a key cog in that recently successful machine, nurturing a six-start streak in which he's won three decisions and posted a 2.57 ERA. He allowed 11 hits, but just two runs, over 5 1/3 innings in defeating the Brewers, 10-2, on Saturday.

The former Reds ace, who was acquired by Cincinnati in a trade that sent Josh Hamilton to Texas, is 0-2 against Cincinnati this season with a 9.64 ERA in two starts.

His 11 wins in 2014, though, are his most since he won 17 and was an All-Star with the Reds in 2008.

Cincinnati has taken nine of 13 in the season series thus far, and has lost just twice in seven games in Pittsburgh.

Mike Leake takes the mound after a 6 2/3-inning effort on Saturday in which he allowed two hits and defeated Atlanta, 1-0. In two previous starts, he'd been gashed for nine runs in 12 innings.

He's thrown 56 career innings at PNC Park, but is just 1-3 there with a 3.21 ERA in nine starts.

Still, he's unbeaten in his last 11 meetings with the Pirates, winning five straight decisions.

Andrew McCutchen is expected to play after missing Tuesday following the aggravation of a rib injury. He returned to the lineup Wednesday and has compiled a .412 average in 13 games versus the Reds this year.

"I'm not going to be passive. I'm going to keep playing like I play," he said. "If my body says, 'No,' my body says, 'No.' But it's nothing big. This takes time to heal, and there are going to be days like this. We just want those kinds of days to be minuscule."

Pedro Alvarez and Travis Snider are both iffy as well. Alvarez did not play Wednesday with a left foot injury and Snider left the game with a hamstring problem.

On Thursday in Cincinnati, Zack Cozart led a potent offensive attack, as the Reds stole the show in a 7-2 thumping of the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park.

Cozart went 3-for-4 with an RBI, three runs scored and two stolen bases for the Reds, who swiped a season-high six bags in winning the rubber match of a three-game set. Todd Frazier also stole two bases, finishing 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored for Cincinnati, which ended a seven-game homestand with four wins.

Deuces were wild for Reds speedster Billy Hamilton. The center fielder had two hits, two RBI, a pair of runs scored and two walks, while stealing his 51st base of the season.

Reds starting pitcher Dylan Axelrod (1-0) got the win, allowing just two hits over five innings. He struck out eight and walked three.

On Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Jeff Locke allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings and added a pair of base hits as the Pirates defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1.

Locke (6-3) scattered six hits, struck out three and walked one on the mound, improving to 4-0 in his last five starts.

Ike Davis added a mammoth two-run homer for the Pirates, who won the final two games of the three-game set. Russell Martin added two hits and McCutchen drove in a run for Pittsburgh.

08/29 10:40:31 ET