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Reds-Astros Preview

AP - Sports

Since the All-Star break, the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds have picked up three wins in Houston.

The last-place Astros have just as many victories in their home ballpark over that same stretch.

The Reds look to win their fourth in a row and continue to make things miserable for the Astros in Friday night's series opener.

Cincinnati (80-52) arrives in Houston after capping a three-game sweep in Arizona with Wednesday's 6-2 victory, which gave the Reds one more win then they amassed all of last season.

"We know that we have to continue to win ballgames," said Mat Latos, Wednesday's winning pitcher. "As long as we can win the series, we've got a good chance of going somewhere."

The Reds would appear to have a good chance of taking another series with a stop in Houston. They've won seven of nine games against the Astros this year and are 5-1 in Houston, which includes a three-game sweep July 23-25.

The Astros (40-91), owner of baseball's worst record, are 3-17 at home since the All-Star break and 8-48 overall since June 28.

Seemingly making matters worse for the Astros, who squandered a 4-0 lead in Thursday's 8-4 loss to San Francisco, Cincinnati expects to activate Joey Votto (left knee) from the disabled list prior to Saturday's game. The Reds have soared even without the 2010 NL MVP, going 30-14 to push their lead atop the Central to 8 1/2 games, up from one when he was first sidelined.

While Ryan Ludwick, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips have all stepped up at times in Votto's absence, Phillips and Frazier have been carrying the Reds lately. Phillips is batting .440 with two homers and six RBIs in his last six games, while Frazier is hitting .360 with 13 RBIs and 12 runs in his last 14.

Bruce, hitting .167 with two RBIs in his last six games, has led the way against the Astros this year, batting .385 with four home runs and 10 RBIs. He is 2 for 6 with a homer lifetime against Houston's Fernando Abad (0-1, 3.62 ERA), who is set to make his second major league start.

Recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City prior to facing the New York Mets on Saturday, Abad gave up one run, four hits and four walks in four innings of a 3-1 loss. The left-hander had made 81 relief appearances over three seasons with the Astros - 30 this year.

"I told you you were going to be pleased with Abad when he came back,'' said Houston manager Tony DeFrancesco, who also managed Abad in the minors.

The Reds counter with Mike Leake (6-8, 4.51), who gave up two runs while scattering 10 hits and walking none in 6 2-3 innings of Saturday's 8-2 win over St. Louis. The left-hander had permitted a season-high seven runs in a loss to Philadelphia five days earlier.

"That was the start he needed," manager Dusty Baker said. "We're trying to get him back to .500."

A start against the Astros might help him get closer to the break-even mark. Leake has posted a 1.80 ERA while winning his last two starts in the series - both in Houston.

Jose Altuve, the Astros' top hitter at .297, is batting .143 (3 for 21) in his last six games, but is 4 for 9 lifetime against Leake.

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