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Burnett for team MVP?

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If he picks up a win tonight, RHP A.J. Burnett will become just the second pitcher to win nine games at PNC Park in a single season. The first to do is was Zach Duke, who went 9-4 on the North Shore in 2006. Burnett leads the team with 172 strikeouts, the most by a Pirate since Ian Snell racked up 177 in 2007. The last Pirates righty with more than 177 Ks was Kris Benson, who amassed 184 whiffs in 2000.

Tonight will be the fourth time this year (and first time at PNC Park) that Burnett and Reds RHP Homer Bailey have squared off. Burnett is 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA in four starts overall against the Reds. He is the only pitcher in the majors who’s beaten Cincy three times this season.

With all that in mind, what do you think of a question posed to me this afternoon by my editor, Kevin Smith: Is it fair to say the Pirates’ MVP this season has been Burnett, rather than Andrew McCutchen? Burnett has been a unifying figure in the clubhouse and imported a brand of swagger and experience that was missing before. He’s been consistent on the field, too. I think a very strong case could be made for either guy.

»»» Speaking of MVPs, my ballot of National League MVP is due by Wednesday. I won’t reveal my selections until after the results are announced, but here are my top four (at the moment), in no particular order: Ryan Braun, McCutchen, Buster Posey, Yadier Molina.

»»» As if the Pirates’ road to 82 wins isn’t steep enough, Cincy fill-in manager Chris Speier said the Reds won’t ease up and use their “Sunday lineup” just because Cincy already has clinched the NL Central.

Game 157: Reds @ Pirates, 7:05 p.m. ET

Reds (94-62): 1. Brandon Phillips 2b, 2. Zack Cozart ss, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Todd Frazier lf, 5. Jay Bruce rf, 6. Scott Rolen 3b, 7. Drew Stubbs cf, 8. Ryan Hanigan c, 9. Homer Bailey rhp (12-10, 3.92)

Pirates (76-80): 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Jordy Mercer 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Jose Tabata rf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Clint Barmes ss, 8. Rod Barajas c, 9. A.J. Burnett rhp (15-8, 3.64)

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