As we hit the final two weeks of the regular season, the pennant chase is at fever pitch and postseason matchups will begin to take shape.
We could get a glimpse of one of those matchups when the Dodgers take on the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Friday. The two clubs could very well meet in the National League Wild Card Game, a winner-take-all contest where entire seasons come down to one game. The Dodgers-Reds tilt is a Free Game of the Day on MLB.TV, and you can catch the palpable drama of the playoff chase with first pitch scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET (blackout restrictions apply).
For the Dodgers, who have won the NL West eight straight years and are chasing the Giants for a ninth consecutive division crown, the dicey prospect of a winner-take-all Wild Card Game could very well become reality.
For the Reds, who lost in last year's NL Wild Card Series and hadn't been to the postseason in seven years prior to that, the opportunity to return is there for the taking -- Cincinnati enters play Friday one game behind the Cardinals and a half-game behind the Padres for the second NL Wild Card slot.
Are these two teams headed for a collision course in early October? Here's what you need to know for their big matchup Friday:
How they're doing:
Dodgers (94-53, 2nd in NL West)
Reds (76-71, 3rd in NL Central)
The Dodgers have been red-hot since the beginning of August, with a 31-10 record since then. They're coming off back-to-back series sweeps of the Padres and D-backs. The only reason Los Angeles isn't in its familiar spot atop the NL West is that the Giants have been playing just as well.
The Reds, meanwhile, have been going in the other direction, though they got a much-needed win on Thursday against the Pirates. Cincinnati has lost 11 of its last 16 games and needs to turn things around quickly to make a final postseason push.
The matchup on the mound
Dodgers -- Walker Buehler (14-3, 2.32 ERA)
Reds -- Luis Castillo (7-15, 4.24 ERA)
Buehler has been tremendous for the Dodgers, putting himself firmly into the NL Cy Young Award conversation. In his last start, he bounced back from his worst outing of the season (six runs over three innings in a loss to the Giants) with another gem, yielding two runs on six hits over seven innings against San Diego, walking two and striking out five. Buehler saw the Reds on April 27 at Dodger Stadium, when he was hit hard for five runs over 6 1/3 innings, though he walked only one and fanned 10.
Don't let Castillo's win-loss record fool you -- he leads the Majors with 15 losses this season, but over his last six starts, he owns a 3.23 ERA. The right-hander hasn't faced the Dodgers in more than two years, last seeing them on April 15, 2019, when he gave up two runs over five innings while walking five and striking out seven at Dodger Stadium.
The player to watch
It's a Turner -- no, not Trea, but Justin. The 36-year-old third baseman has been heating up at the plate as of late, hitting .438 with a double, two homers and seven RBIs over his last four games. Prior to that, he had been in a 2-for-19 slump. The Dodgers have a number of players who have stepped up for them in clutch situations in recent years, and Turner is certainly one of them. If he stays locked in, he could help Los Angeles surge to the finish line and claim its ninth straight division crown.
Don't forget him
Remember Eugenio Suárez? Yeah, the guy who launched 83 homers from 2018-19? He's having the worst season of his career and has been relegated to starts against left-handed pitching, but don't forget about him coming off the bench -- he's hitting .364 (8-for-22) with two doubles and three homers in 10 September games.
Entering play Thursday, only three teams in baseball had a higher whiff rate than the pitching staffs of the Dodgers and Reds -- the Dodgers ranked fourth in MLB at 28.3 percent, and the Reds ranked right behind them at 27.8 percent.
Number of note
No bullpen has a better opponents' expected batting average than the Dodgers' in 2021. Dodgers relievers have held hitters to an xBA of just .214, with two ranking in the top 10 among all MLB relievers -- batters have a .180 xBA against Kenley Jansen this year, and a .184 xBA against Blake Treinen.