CINCINNATI -- The sort-of playoffs against the Pirates before the actual playoffs got off to a lousy start for the Reds. Unlike the National League Wild Card Game on Tuesday, Cincinnati does at least have another shot to get it right following a defeat.
In a battle for Wild Card seeding, a 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Friday before a sellout crowd of 40,107 fans gave the Reds three losses in their last four games. It also dropped their record to 90-70, two games behind 92-68 Pittsburgh for the first spot.
"Can't put our heads down now, we're in the playoffs," said third baseman Todd Frazier, who hit a fourth-inning home run for the Reds' lone run. "Do we want to play at home? Of course. It's good we got an early game tomorrow, so nobody puts their heads down. We'll come in fired up again and away we go."
While a Wild Card Game site is still to be determined, the opponent is now set to be these same Pirates. The Cardinals, who had a magic number of 1 on Pittsburgh, clinched the NL Central with an easy victory over the Cubs.
Cincinnati, which has scored one run over its last 21 innings and six runs over its last 37, is now in the position of having to win the final two games of the regular season for the right to host the Wild Card showdown at Great American Ball Park.
Six days removed from striking out 12 Reds over seven innings at PNC Park, Pirates starter A.J. Burnett kept Cincinnati quiet again with a sterling eight-inning performance. The right-hander allowed just five hits and one walk while striking out six.
"We had a couple of threats there. They were followed by double plays," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We might have gotten a little over anxious."
Not closing out hitters with two strikes was a recurring theme for Reds starter Homer Bailey, who gave up four runs and four hits over his five-plus innings, with three strikeouts. For the third consecutive start, Bailey tied a season high with four walks.
"We were just all over the place," said Bailey, who threw 95 pitches, 53 for strikes. "Unfortunately, it was terrible timing to have a bad game."
A pivotal inning came in the third. It started when Bailey hit his second batter of the night, Starling Marte, with an 0-2 pitch. With one out, there was an 0-2 count on Andrew McCutchen before he saw four straight balls for a walk. Justin Morneau was down in a 1-2 count before fouling off two pitches and taking three straight balls to walk the bases loaded.
Marlon Byrd's rolling single past diving shortstop Zack Cozart scored the game's first two runs. Bailey avoided further damage by getting Pedro Alvarez to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.
"He lost command of the strike zone that one inning. Usually Homer gets stronger as the game goes on," Baker said.
The last time Burnett faced the Reds, he overmatched them with his curveball. This time, he used more fastballs and still got the job done.
Cincinnati's scoreless streak reached 16 innings through the third.
There were two outs in the fourth when Frazier smacked a first pitch off of the left-field foul pole for a two-out homer that put the Reds on the scoreboard and down a run.
"He had his stuff working today," Frazier said. "Great pitcher, the [10-11] record doesn't show that, but we knew what we were in store for with him. We understand we got to get on him early."
Bailey had a stretch where he retired seven of eight, but he couldn't get through the sixth. Byrd led off with a double off the top of the left-center-field wall that was upheld after an instant-replay review. On a 1-2 fastball, Alvarez tattooed a two-run homer off of the batter's eye in center field.
Entering the at-bat, Alvarez had been 2-for-20 with eight strikeouts against Bailey. His 186 strikeouts lead the NL.
"The only guy he had gotten out really with any consistency was Alvarez, who hit the home run off of him," Baker said.
Reliever Alfredo Simon replaced Bailey, who finished his 2013 regular season 11-12 with a 3.49 ERA in 32 starts and set career highs with 209 innings pitched and 199 strikeouts.
Bailey has a 4.58 ERA over his last three starts and back-to-back losses that put him under .500 for the season. Before the trio of four-walk games, he had walked more than two batters in a game only three times since May 7.
"We just have to go to the video and see what we can find," Bailey said. "I have a pretty good idea what we're doing. I just have to keep trying to correct it."
Joey Votto had two hits, reaching base for the 311th and 312th times this season to break Pete Rose's club record set in 1969. What followed Votto's second hit -- a leadoff single in the ninth against closer Jason Grilli -- was indicative of the night the Reds had. Brandon Phillips followed by grounding a first pitch toward third base for a double play. Jay Bruce grounded out to first to end the game.
"It really hurts to lose, but we've got to come back tomorrow," Baker said. "We have no choice."