PITTSBURGH -- As the Reds open a three-game series against the Pirates, who have the second-best record in baseball, it's only the beginning of a particularly tough month of series.
Of the 28 games that begin on Friday, only seven are against opponents currently under .500. Included are the Pirates twice, the first-place Cardinals (baseball's best team), the first-place D-backs and the first-place Rangers in that stretch. Arizona, Oakland and Texas are part of a road trip at the end of June.
"That's cool," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "This will be indicative of where you are at this point of the season right now. This team usually rises to the occasion in big games. This is when the big players stand up, guys that love the thrill of competition. This is fun. You should leave the park every day thoroughly exhausted, mentally and physically."
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips embraced the upcoming challenge facing Cincinnati.
"This is about us doing our job," Phillips said. "We're playing some great teams but I feel like that when you play against great teams, that's when you step up. That's going to be motivation for us."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.