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OAK@PIT: Liriano holds A's scoreless, fans six

Is this finally the year the Pirates finish above .500 and make the playoffs?

It seems that way. But then it did last year, when Pittsburgh began the season's second half leading the National League Central by one game. And in 2011, when the Pirates were just one game back in the standings.

Pirates fans certainly don't need a reminder on how that turned out.

The Pirates won three of their last four and were victorious 56 times before the All-Star break. But that was before the time off.

"It depends on the day you ask it [whether the break is good or bad]," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of the time off. "After the first two [losses] against Oakland, people were telling me we should take a week off. We're not built that way [to worry about the break's effect]. We got to play today, then we're done for four days."

The next stretch begins on Friday, when the Pirates open the second half in Cincinnati against the third-place Reds, who won the division last season, at Great American Ball Park.

Cincinnati begins the second half five games behind the first-place Cardinals and knows the next few months will be pivotal in repeating as division champs.

"We need to stay nipping at their heels and let them know we're here," Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "If not, it gets a little bit easier for them to go into their ballgames and kind of cruise."

The Reds face Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano in the series opener, and the lefty has been the ace of Pittsburgh's staff as of late.

Liriano has won each of his last four starts since losing to the Reds on June 17, while allowing one earned run or fewer in eight of his first 12 outings. He's dropped both starts against the Reds this year, but has a 2.25 ERA in those outings.

Mike Leake begins the second half for the Reds after going 3-1 with a 2.28 ERA in his last six starts before the break.

Pirates: It's been awhile
All-Star third baseman Pedro Alvarez is one of three Pirates to hit at least 24 home runs prior to the All-Star break, joining Willie Stargell (30 in 1971) and Ralph Kiner (24 in 1950).

Also, outfielders Starling Marte (28) and Andrew McCutchen (20) are the first pair of Pirates to swipe at least 20 bases before the All-Star break since Andy Van Slyke (21) and Barry Bonds (20) in 1987.

• Pittsburgh's 56 wins before the All-Star break were one shy of the club record for most prior to the break, set by the 1971 World Series champion club.

Reds: Choo at 12
Center fielder Shin-Soo Choo went 2-for-3 and scored three runs on Sunday to extend his hitting streak to 12 games, one shy of his career high. He's hitting .429 in that stretch.

• The Reds optioned fifth starter Tony Cingrani to their Arizona League affiliate on Thursday because they won't need him until Tuesday's doubleheader. Because of the twinbill -- and a new rule allowing a 26th man on the roster for a doubleheader -- Cingrani doesn't need wait 10 days before being recalled.

Infielder Neftali Soto was recalled to take Cingrani's roster spot.

• First baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips became only the fifth set of teammates to comprise the right side of the infield as starters in Tuesday's All-Star Game. Neither recorded a hit as they both went 0-for-2.

• Reds relievers have a 0.96 ERA in their last 13 games.

Worth noting
• Reds first baseman Joey Votto has 148 home runs and 499 RBIs in his career.

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