Monday couldn't have gone much better for the Cincinnati Reds.
Not only did Johnny Cueto impress in his return, leading the club to a series-opening victory over the Houston Astros, but the two squads they're chasing in the NL Central both suffered defeats.
They figure to have another good chance to put pressure on the division leaders on Tuesday night, considering both Joey Votto and Mike Leake's histories in Houston.
The Reds (85-66) claimed a 6-1 victory over the Astros on Monday behind Cueto's five scoreless innings in his first start since late June after being out with a strained lat muscle.
"That's a tremendous shot in the arm for our team," manager Dusty Baker said. "Guys were psyched that he was out there."
Joey Votto was 2 for 4, recording his seventh multihit game in his last 10 contests, and is batting .494 during a 22-game hitting streak at Minute Maid Park.
Cincinnati has split its last eight contests but Monday saw St. Louis and Pittsburgh lose to Colorado and San Diego, respectively, trimming the NL Central deficit to 2 1/2 games. Washington, which had won 10 of 12 before having its Monday game versus Atlanta postponed due to the Navy Yard shootings, trails the Reds by five games for a wild-card spot.
In addition to Votto's hot hitting in Houston, Leake (13-6, 3.35 ERA) has enjoyed pitching there, going 4-1 with a 2.62 ERA in five starts. He won all three of his outings at Minute Maid Park last season while posting a 2.14 ERA.
Overall, Leake has won back-to-back starts after notching a victory just once in his previous seven. He surrendered four hits over 5 2-3 innings of a 6-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, his career-best 13th victory of the year.
"I didn't have my best stuff," said Leake, who also tied a season high by walking four batters. "Sometimes you have a few games where a couple of pitches beat you. I was able to make pitches and it worked out."
Leake faces a Houston club suddenly starved for runs after a hot streak. They scored 34 while winning four in a row last week, but have since tallied four runs while dropping three straight.
Jose Altuve remains hot, however, going 2 for 4 Monday to raise his average to .439 over the last 15 games. All-Star catcher Jason Castro didn't play again as the club wants to see how his injured right knee responds to treatment.
The Astros (51-99) will hand the ball to Jordan Lyles (7-7, 4.92), who has gone 3-1 over his last five starts with a 3.31 ERA, throwing at least six innings in each. He became the team's wins leader after giving up two runs and four hits over six innings of a 13-2 win in Seattle last Tuesday.
He's 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three career starts versus Cincinnati. Votto is 5 for 7 off him with a homer and a pair of doubles, and Zack Cozart is 3 for 5 with a home run and two doubles.
Cozart snapped out of a 1-for-15 slump Monday by driving in four runs, including a two-run homer in the second inning.
Houston's next defeat will clinch the franchise's third consecutive 100-loss season.
"I feel like we've been playing better,'' first baseman Chris Carter said. "It's just looking at the season as how we finish it instead of how we started it as a whole. Just looking to finish strong and keep playing good games. Hopefully that rolls into next year and we have a good season after that.''