Houston (74-83) at Cincinnati (88-69)

Light Rain Currently: Cincinnati, OH
Temp: 50° F
  • Game info: 7:10 pm EDT Wed Sep 29, 2010
  • TV: FSH, FSOH
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Cincinnati Reds are heading to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years after clinching the NL Central title on a dramatic game-ending home run.

For the Reds to have a decent chance of advancing past the division series, however, they’re going to need Johnny Cueto(notes) to pitch much better than his last outing.

Cueto, a possible starter for a playoff opener, looks to bounce back from his worst performance of the year when he takes the ball against the Houston Astros on Wednesday night.

Cincinnati (88-69) won its first division title since 1995 with a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Astros on Tuesday. With the game tied at 2, Jay Bruce(notes) led off the ninth with a homer, spurring a raucous celebration at home plate.

“When he hit that one up there, there was a big sigh of relief and the party was on,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I’m as happy as a man can be. This is sweet. This is a special group, special guys and a special feeling.”

With the Reds celebrating the division championship long after Bruce’s clutch homer, it’s uncertain what kind of lineup Baker will use for this game.

Baker also has time to set his starting rotation for the playoffs with Cueto (12-6, 3.73 ERA) and Bronson Arroyo(notes) (16-10, 3.97) the likely candidates to take the mound in the first game.

Cueto’s chances of pitching Game 1 seemed to take a bit of a hit, however, after he was pounded for eight runs and eight hits in a season-low 1 1-3 innings in last Wednesday’s 13-1 loss to Milwaukee. The right-hander had a 2.18 ERA in his previous five starts.

“I wasn’t locating the pitches how I wanted,” Cueto told the Reds’ official website. “I was opening up too much and I was landing standing up. So my pitches weren’t locating. After I finished and watched the video, that’s what I figured out.”

Before getting hit hard by the Brewers, Cueto didn’t receive a decision after allowing three runs in six innings of a 5-3 win at Houston on Sept. 17. He is 1-1 with a 2.18 ERA in five starts against the Astros since the start of last season.

Cueto has done a good job of shutting down slugger Carlos Lee(notes), who is 1 for 14 against him since 2009.

The Astros (74-83) lost their third straight Tuesday and have dropped six of seven after winning six of eight. They haven’t lost four in a row since Aug. 4-8.

“We wanted to win all three games and make them clinch against somebody else,” said reliever Tim Byrdak(notes), who served up Bruce’s homer.

Nelson Figueroa(notes) (5-4, 3.81), who struggled against Cincinnati less than two weeks ago, is scheduled to pitch for the Astros.

After going 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA in his first six starts since being moved to the rotation, Figueroa has yielded five runs in each of his last two—both losses.

The right-hander gave up seven hits in 4 1-3 innings in an 11-1 defeat to the Reds on Sept. 18 before allowing six hits—two homers—in six innings of a 7-2 loss at Washington on Thursday.

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Starting Pitchers

N. Figueroa Ari vs. J. Cueto Cin
7-4 Record 12-7
3.29 ERA 3.64
73 K 138
34 BB 56
1.27 WHIP 1.28

Scoreboard

Wednesday, Sep 29