The Cincinnati Reds have never had a Cy Young Award winner, but Johnny Cueto is making a strong case to become the franchise's first.
The club's most recent MVP might be able to provide the ace with some help.
Cueto seeks his major league-leading 18th victory and Joey Votto may make his anticipated return to the lineup as Cincinnati opens a nine-game homestand against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday.
No Cincinnati pitcher has ever claimed a Cy Young since baseball began handing out the award in 1956, but Cueto (17-6, 2.48 ERA) has a legitimate shot to end that drought - especially if he reaches his season goal.
The right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his last four starts after giving up two runs in seven innings of Tuesday's 5-2 win over Arizona, and he's tied with the Mets' R.A. Dickey, Washington's Gio Gonzalez and Tampa Bay's David Price for the most victories in baseball.
''All I can promise is to try and keep going because I want to win 20 games,'' Cueto said. ''I felt better as the game went on. I was able to gather more strength and continue.''
Cueto is 1-0 with a 2.42 ERA in his last four starts versus the Phillies after giving up two runs in five innings of Cincinnati's 4-3, 11-inning loss Aug. 23. There's a chance he'll get some help this time around from Votto, who could make his return to the lineup Monday.
The 2010 NL MVP hasn't played since tearing his left medial meniscus July 15, though he homered in a rehab game Saturday. Votto, who was hitting .342 at the time of the injury, will have the final decision regarding his status Monday.
"We'll wait and see if he thinks he's ready," manager Dusty Baker told the team's official website. "We've got a spot for him."
Despite missing Votto, the Reds (82-53) have the most wins in baseball and increased their NL Central lead from one game to 9 1/2 over St. Louis while going 32-15 without their star slugger.
Jay Bruce hit a three-run homer during Cincinnati's five-run eighth in Sunday's 5-3 win over Houston for the team's fifth victory in six games.
''It looked bad for a while,'' Baker said. ''We didn't have a whole bunch of chances, but we got some guys on base late and got some good hits.''
Philadelphia's Sunday didn't go nearly as well, blowing a four-run, ninth-inning lead capped by Chipper Jones' walkoff three-run homer in an 8-7 loss at Atlanta.
Eric Kratz hit a three-run double in a five-run first for the Phillies (64-70), who still won two of three in the series.
''It was set up perfect for us. We didn't get it done," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We won the series, but so what? We had a chance to sweep. We need to win every game we can."
The Phillies will look to Tyler Cloyd to help get them back on track.
Cloyd (0-1, 4.50) made his major league debut Wednesday and gave up three runs in six innings of a 3-2 loss to the New York Mets. The right-hander also struck out five.
''He looked in control. He looked gutty,'' Manuel said. ''He doesn't light up the radar gun.''
The Reds and Phillies split a four-game set Aug. 20-23, but Philadelphia has won four straight at Great American Ball Park.