Pirates-Reds Preview

Three consecutive postseason appearances take the luster out of a 3-0 start that ultimately won't mean much come October, when the Pittsburgh Pirates truly hope to shine.

They didn't put too much emphasis on last year's opening series either after being swept in Cincinnati. They went on to finish with the second-best record in the majors while watching the Reds lose 98 games despite winning their first four.

Pittsburgh has a long way to go before it starts celebrating, but it surely wouldn't mind beginning 4-0 for the first time in 13 years in Friday night's series opener at Cincinnati.

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The Pirates finished 98-64 in 2015 before losing the NL wild-card game to Chicago, which marked a disappointing end to an otherwise successful season that began with them scoring eight runs in three losses to the Reds.

They're hoping a different start to 2016 leads to an even better year and perhaps some postseason success. Andrew McCutchen (5 for 11), Gregory Polanco (3 for 7, five walks) and Francisco Cervelli (4 for 11, three RBIs) led the way in a three-game sweep of St. Louis as the Pirates scored 15 runs without a homer.

''We've reached a point now where we're no longer surprised when we play well,'' manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Pirates held the Cardinals to four hits in Wednesday's 5-1 win that brought Pittsburgh to the brink of winning its first four for the first time since 2003. John Jaso tripled to give the Pirates a three-bagger in their first three games for the first time since 1910.

''It was a good first series, a good example of teamwork,'' Jaso said. ''The pitching was great and everyone in the lineup, one through eight, contributed.''

Francisco Liriano opened the season by striking out 10 over six scoreless innings of Sunday's 4-1 victory, and he'll get the ball in this one. Liriano went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts against the Reds last season and has a 4.12 ERA in seven starts in Cincinnati.

Jay Bruce is 4 for 24 with seven strikeouts against the left-hander, but he's gotten off to a hot start. Bruce went 6 for 12 in a three-game sweep of Philadelphia, hitting a three-run homer in the fourth, an RBI single later that inning and a solo shot in the seventh of Thursday's 10-6 win.

His five RBIs tied a career high, and his start is especially encouraging after he hit .217 in 2014 and .226 last year.

''He put a lot of work in to close some holes in his swing,'' manager Bryan Price said. ''I know he was disappointed in his last two seasons.''

Eugenio Suarez hit his first career grand slam in the eight-run fourth Thursday. The Reds acquired Suarez from Detroit in December 2014 in exchange for Alfredo Simon, who went 13-12 with a 5.05 ERA with the Tigers.

Simon is back, though, after signing a one-year deal last month and will get the call against the Pirates. The right-hander faced Pittsburgh twice last season, going eight innings of a 1-0 win April 15 before allowing six runs and a career-high 15 hits in a 9-3 loss July 1.

Cincinnati went 11-8 against the Pirates in 2015 despite finishing last in the Central Division. It's unclear if it will have Brandon Phillips in this matchup after he sat out Thursday with a stomach virus.