(SportsNetwork.com) - Both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are capable of going on second-half runs and challenge for the National League Central crown.
The Reds, though, will need to get healthy first.
Cincinnati tries to avoid any further setbacks on Friday night when it begins a three-game set with visiting Pittsburgh.
The NL Central remains a four-team race, with the third-place Reds 2 1/2 games out of first place, currently held by the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates are a game back in fourth place.
Cincinnati, though, has recently lost both Joey Votto (strained left quad) and Brandon Phillips (left thumb surgery) to injury and also saw starter Homer Bailey leave Thursday's start versus the Chicago Cubs due to pain his right knee.
Bailey, though, expects to make his next start after the All-Star break, though Phillips is out six weeks and Votto has landed on the disabled list for the second time due to his quad injury.
Cincinnati, though, did manage to rip off five straight wins before a 6-4 setback in 12 innings on Thursday in the finale of a five-game set with Chicago.
One reason the Reds have to still feel good after their second-half chances has to do with the return of Mat Latos, who is 2-1 with a 2.41 earned run average in five starts after opening the season on the DL.
Latos has pitched to a 1.64 ERA in his last three outings and won a 4-2 decision over Milwaukee on Sunday. The righty gave up two runs on four hits and a walk over a season-high eight innings.
The 26-year-old Latos is an excellent 5-1 lifetime versus the Pirates with a 2.96 ERA in 11 starts.
Pittsburgh lost some ground in the divisional race earlier this week after losing the first three of a four-game set to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Pirates were able to salvage Thursday's finale with a 9-1 rout, fueled by Edinson Volquez's second career complete game.
Volquez, a former Red, struck out five, scattered six hits and walked two in his first complete game since July 19, 2012.
"Maintained velocity, attacked the zone, a very, very good effort. He gave everyone in the bullpen a night off," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Volquez.
Jeff Locke will try to build off that momentum tonight for Pittsburgh and he picked up a 6-2 win over Philadelphia last time out on Sunday. He was charged with two runs -- one earned -- on three hits and a walk in eight innings of work.
"Fantastic effort from Jeff today," Hurdle said. "Outstanding effort, really good."
It marked Locke's second straight eight-inning start and third in seven starts this year. The 26-year-old southpaw is 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA in 2014.
Locke got a no-decision at home versus the Reds on June 19, yielding a pair of runs and three hits over six innings. He is 2-1 against them lifetime with a 3.03 ERA.
The Reds have won seven of 10 versus the Pirates this season.