The league leader in some major pitching categories while playing for a division front-runner, Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto is an obvious candidate for the NL Cy Young Award.
Philadelphia's Cole Hamels may be a long shot for that honor, but defeating the Reds could help bolster his resume.
Cueto aims to become baseball's first 17-game winner and lead Cincinnati to a rare series win at Citizens Bank Park in Thursday night's finale, while Hamels looks to continue his dominance over the NL Central-leading Reds.
After dropping Monday's four-game series opener 12-5, Cincinnati (76-49) has won consecutive one-run decisions over the Phillies to maintain its eight-game lead atop the Central. Bronson Arroyo and Aroldis Chapman combined on a four-hitter in Wednesday's 3-2 victory while Jay Bruce homered and doubled for the Reds, who won for the 10th time in 13 contests and moved a season-high 27 games over .500.
Bruce is batting .419 with five homers and 12 RBIs in his last 11 games.
The Reds, who arrived in Philadelphia losers of nine of 10 in the City of Brotherly Love, are a victory away from taking their first series at Citizens Bank Park since August 2006.
Cincinnati seems to have the right man on the mound in Cueto (16-6, 2.44 ERA), but runs could be hard to come by for each team with Philadelphia (57-67) countering with Hamels (14-6, 2.94).
Cueto is tied for the major league wins lead and has the best ERA in the NL, while Hamels ranks fourth in the league with 168 strikeouts.
Both have been cruising lately, with Cueto having permitted two runs over 16 innings in winning his last two starts. The right-hander has also won seven of his last eight outings, and is the first Cincinnati pitcher since Danny Jackson in 1988 to win 16 of his first 25 starts in a season.
"He has to be a serious candidate for the Cy Young Award," Reds manager Dusty Baker said after Cueto allowed two runs and three hits in eight innings of Saturday's 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs.
Hamels has been pitching his way into the Cy Young conversation, yielding three runs over 25 2-3 innings to win his last three outings.
After throwing consecutive shutouts, Hamels permitted three runs and eight hits with a season-high tying 10 strikeouts in 7 2-3 innings of Saturday's 4-3 victory over Milwaukee. The left-hander had limited the Brewers to one run until Ryan Braun hit a two-run homer with two outs in the eighth.
Hamels is now one victory away from matching his career high of 15, set in 2007.
"That's kind of the evil number there," he told the Phillies' official website. "I haven't been able to get to it."
A start against Cincinnati might help him reach that elusive number.
In nine career starts against the Reds, Hamels is 7-0 with a 1.44 ERA - his best record versus any NL team and lowest ERA against any major league club. Two of those outings were complete games, and the Phillies won all nine.
Bruce has had some recent success against Hamels, going 4 for 13 with a pair of homers since 2009.
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who was hitless in four at-bats Wednesday after batting .440 during a six-game hitting streak, is 3 for 8 with a triple and two doubles off Cueto since 2010.
Cueto is 1-0 with a 2.14 ERA in his last three starts against the Phillies.
- Cole Hamels
- Johnny Cueto
- Citizens Bank Park