To boost its hopes of claiming that title, Cincinnati could use an improved performance against the Dodgers and a better outing from Mike Leake in Friday night's series opener.
The Reds (79-62) own a seven-game advantage for the NL's final wild-card spot, but they're also within three games of Pittsburgh in their division after winning three of four over second-place St. Louis this week.
Cincinnati outscored the Cardinals 18-9 and posted a 1.67 ERA during the set, which concluded with a 6-2 victory for the Reds on Thursday.
"That was a big series right there," manager Dusty Baker said. "(A 5-4 loss in 16 innings Wednesday) still hurts, but that's OK. We've got a resilient team."
The Reds' next opponent has a sizable lead in the NL West, and the Dodgers helped themselves in that race by winning six straight before a 7-5 loss in Colorado on Wednesday. The big cushion has allowed Los Angeles (83-56) to give star rookie Yasiel Puig some time to rest an ailing knee.
Puig had a pinch-hit appearance Wednesday, but manager Don Mattingly wouldn't say if he would return to the lineup Friday.
Given his recent starts, Leake (11-6, 3.51 ERA) likely wouldn't mind seeing the .350 hitter on the bench. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 7.22 ERA in his last six starts and gave up six runs over 4 1-3 innings in a 7-4 loss in Colorado on Sunday.
"I still feel like I'm making pitches," Leake said. "Just two or three mistakes per game kind of got me."
Leake will try to end his slump while helping the Reds improve on their 3-7 record against the Dodgers since the beginning of last season. Los Angeles won three of four at home in the only other matchup this season July 25-28 and has won four of its last five games in Cincinnati.
Leake is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in three starts against Los Angeles. In this matchup, he'll pitch opposite Chris Capuano (4-7, 4.41), who is starting in place of an ailing Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Ryu is dealing with back stiffness and Capuano might prove a capable replacement as he has a 0.71 ERA in his last two starts against Cincinnati. He gave up three hits over 6 2-3 innings in a 1-0 victory July 28 and heads into this game after a strong performance against San Diego on Saturday.
Capuano allowed one run over seven innings but did not get a decision in a 2-1 victory, keeping him winless in his last five outings. The left-hander is competing with recently acquired Edinson Volquez for time in the rotation.
"There's always pressure in a sense that there's always someone ready to take your spot if you're not getting it done," Capuano told the team's official website. "The only pressure is me just trying keep up with these other guys and give us a chance to win."
Joey Votto is hitting .444 (8 for 18) against Capuano but is 4 for 37 (.108) in his last 10 games. Andre Ethier is 5 for 9 with two homers versus Leake.
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