MLB Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates Series Highlighted Difficulty of NL Central in 2014

Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates

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Even though the 2014 baseball season is only one month old, the NL Central is already shaping up as a highly competitive division that is forcing more urgency with each divisional series played.

The four-game set that the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates wrapped up this afternoon was one such series. The Reds won the series three games to one and in the process evened their record to reach .500 again (11-11) for the first time since the second game of the season.

Reds’ starter Tony Cingrani entered the series finale with a record streak of 22-straight starts with five or fewer hits surrendered. The Pirates ended that streak, but Cingrani pitched six innings of one-run baseball and was the winning pitcher.

Pirates’ starter Brandon Crumpton was making his first big-league start of the year. He gave up just two runs in seven innings and kept the Pirates in the game in the 2-1 Reds win.

Prior to facing the Pirates for these past four games, the Reds had already dropped two three-game sets within the NL Central against the St. Louis Cardinals less than two full weeks into the season.

The Reds then rebounded within the division with back-to-back, three-game series wins over the Pirates and the Chicago Cubs. The four-game series that just concluded Thursday between the Reds and Pirates showcased the intensity that is building up between the two teams as both vie to topple the defending division champion Cardinals and catch the streaking Milwaukee Brewers.

The Pirates bore the brunt of the early-season intensity in the series immediately preceding the now-complete four-game series with the Reds. That series with the Brewers turned ugly on the field with a benches-clearing brawl and on the scoreboard for the Pirates, who dropped three of four against the Brewers at home. The Pirates may have dug themselves an early season hole, but they might have enough talent to recover from their 9-14 start.

The Reds and Pirates won’t face each other again until mid-June, but the intensity of the competition between the two teams and within the NL Central promises to pick up right where it has left off when the two teams do face each other again.

Robb Hoff is a Cincinnati Reds writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @NFLNostradamus, like him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.