A stretch of games against three of baseball's worst teams would seem to be just what the Cincinnati Reds need to all but lock down a playoff spot.
The Reds, however, just dropped two of three to the NL Central cellar dwellers, and have had problems lately against the division's fourth-place team.
Cincinnati hopes to shake its struggles against the Milwaukee Brewers as it opens its final road trip of the season Friday night.
After opening a 10-game homestand by taking six of seven from St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Reds (83-64) suffered a bit of a letdown by losing back-to-back games to the Chicago Cubs before winning Wednesday's series finale 6-0.
"We needed it big-time," manager Dusty Baker told the Reds' official website. "We hated to let the Cubs get out of here with two, but it would have been worse with three."
Washington took full advantage of Cincinnati's slight struggles, pulling within 5 1/2 games for the NL's second wild-card spot.
The Reds would appear to have a good chance to keep the Nationals at bay with games against the Brewers followed by three in Houston, but Cincinnati has lost four of its last six with Milwaukee. It has also dropped seven of 10 at Miller Park.
"We've had some trouble here with Milwaukee the last couple of series, so we owe them one," Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "We need to go out there and prove what kind of team we actually are."
The Brewers (63-82) didn't do the Reds any favors by losing two of three in St. Louis. The Cardinals and Pittsburgh are tied atop the NL Central, 2 1/2 games ahead of Cincinnati.
"We're in a (pennant) race all right," Milwaukee rookie Sean Halton said after Thursday's 5-3 win over the Cardinals, "a race to knock someone else out."
Joey Votto appears to have broken out of his slump by going 9 for 18 with six walks in his last six games. He is batting .348 (8 for 23) lifetime against scheduled starter Kyle Lohse (9-9, 3.59 ERA).
The Reds give the ball to Mat Latos (14-5, 3.02), who makes his second attempt at surpassing last season's win total for a new career high.
Latos gave up three runs and nine hits in seven innings in Saturday's 4-3, 10-inning win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. He surrendered his first home run in nine starts, and is 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA in 10 outings since the All-Star break.
One of those defeats came against the Brewers, though he pitched well enough to win. Latos gave up two runs over seven innings in Milwaukee on Aug. 17, but was saddled with a 2-0 loss. He has permitted two runs or less in four of five starts versus the Brewers since the start of last season.
Lohse also usually stymies the Reds, posting a 1.96 ERA in his last nine starts against them dating to 2009.
The right-hander, however, was tagged for a season-worst seven runs and 11 hits over five innings in Friday's 8-5 loss to the Cubs. That showing came 10 days after he yielded five runs and a career-high 13 hits in 5 1-3 innings in Pittsburgh.
"You're gonna have starts like that,'' Lohse said. "You look around, guys have those starts. It is frustrating that it's two out of three, but I look at the season as a whole.''
Excluding those two duds, Lohse is 4-1 with a 1.98 ERA since the All-Star break.
Carlos Gomez is 6 for 12 with two homers, a double and a triple lifetime against Latos, while Jean Segura is 5 for 10 with a home run against the right-hander.
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