The Cincinnati Reds missed a prime opportunity to pick up ground on the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central race last week at Busch Stadium, but they at least were able to avoid a sweep as Adam Wainwright labored through his worst start of the season.
Cincinnati sends Mat Latos to the mound to oppose Wainwright as the clubs begin a crucial four-game series Monday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.
The Reds (76-61) hold the league's second wild-card spot while trailing St. Louis (79-57) and Pittsburgh by 3 1/2 games in the Central. They lost two of three to the Cardinals from Monday through Wednesday, then dropped two of three at Colorado with Sunday's 7-4 defeat.
Shin-Soo Choo went 3 for 5 with a two-run homer and Chris Heisey finished 4 for 4 for Cincinnati, which has dropped six of eight.
"Every game from here on out is huge, especially games against the Cardinals," Heisey said. "We just have to show up and play the ball we can. We got them at home this time. I think we're a little more comfortable playing at our home ballpark, and hopefully we can play well against them."
Cincinnati lost 10 of the first 14 meetings with St. Louis - with Latos starting three of the four victories - but its offense battered Wainwright on Wednesday in a 10-0 victory to salvage the series finale.
Wainwright (15-8, 2.96 ERA) allowed four hits and a walk to the first five batters as the Reds scored nine runs in his two innings on the hill. He allowed two runs over seven frames in each of his first two outings against Cincinnati this season, losing 2-1 on April 29 before earning a 9-2 win June 7.
"You just have to throw it away," Wainwright said of his last start. "You'd like to say there's something to learn in every game. I'm going to forget about it and go back to pitching."
The right-hander, who had allowed two runs while striking out 20 over 16 innings to win his previous two starts, will be looking to become the NL's first 16-game winner, though the Reds are countering with their top pitcher.
Latos (13-5, 3.03) went 3-1 with a 0.89 ERA while allowing three runs in 30 1-3 innings over his previous four starts before giving up four runs in six-plus frames of Tuesday's 6-1 loss to the Cardinals.
Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday each singled to start the bottom of the first as St. Louis reached Latos for two runs early. The right-hander had gone 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in his previous three starts against the Cardinals this season.
"Latos did his thing," manager Dusty Baker said. "He threw the ball well. He got out of the first inning with minimum damage. He even helped himself at the plate (with two hits). He had as good at-bats as anybody."
He'll face a Cardinals team that struggled at the plate before Sunday's 7-2 win over Pittsburgh that tied the Pirates atop the division. Holliday and David Freese drove in two runs each for St. Louis, which had scored one run during a three-game skid prior to the victory.
"For us to come back out in a day game after scoring one run the first two nights (of the series) was really big,'' Freese said. "It finally gave us a little momentum.''
The Cardinals have won five of their last seven at Cincinnati.