Reds-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

The Cincinnati Reds capped a satisfying homestand with a three-game sweep over a NL Central rival.

They'll try to stay hot during a favorable road trip beginning against another division foe.

The Reds look to win their fifth straight Monday night when they open a three-game series against the lowly Houston Astros.

Cincinnati completed an 8-2 homestand with a 2-1 victory over Milwaukee on Sunday. Wilson Valdez drove in the tying run and scored the go-ahead one while Johnny Cueto struck out nine in seven strong innings.

The Reds (55-40), who have won 11 of 13 overall, opened the homestand with a sweep of St. Louis and are 23-15 against their own division.

Cincinnati has a one-half game lead over Pittsburgh in the Central.

"We got off to a great start with the sweep of St. Louis and got a great end with this sweep," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's real big."

Brandon Phillips has stepped up with Joey Votto out due to a knee injury. Phillips went 4 for 7 with a homer and three RBIs in the final two games against Milwaukee and is hitting .419 in his last 11 games overall.

Phillips will try to help Cincinnati stay ahead of the Pirates during a road trip against two last-place teams in Houston and Colorado. The Reds are 24-22 away from home and 4-2 overall against the Astros this season, having won two of three in Houston the first week of June.

Besides Phillips, the Astros should be wary of Jay Bruce, who has showed signs of turning things around after struggling recently. He went 4 for 7 in the first two games against Milwaukee and is 7 for 18 with four homers versus Houston this season.

Bruce, though, has been absolutely miserable against scheduled Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez (7-8, 3.75 ERA), going 2 for 29 with 15 strikeouts lifetime.

The Astros return home after losing the final six games of a 10-game road swing that saw them go 1-9. Houston, which has the worst record in the majors at 34-62, has dropped 19 of 21 overall.

"We are glad we are going home," said manager Brad Mills, whose team was outscored 33-13 in being swept at Arizona over the weekend following Sunday's 8-2 loss. ''It seems like it has been forever since we have been home."

Houston will try to snap its skid against Mat Latos (7-3, 4.33), who is coming off his first loss since April 18 against St. Louis.

Latos gave up five runs and issued two homers in 4 2-3 innings of a 7-1 loss to Arizona last Wednesday. He had a 1.20 ERA and two complete games in his previous four starts.

The right-hander doesn't have a decision in two starts against the Astros this year. Cincinnati won both of those outings despite Latos giving up three home runs and 12 runs - nine earned - in 9 2-3 innings.

Rodriguez is looking to avoid a third straight loss after giving up five runs in four innings of an 8-4 defeat to San Diego on Wednesday.

The left-hander defeated the Reds in April but did not get a decision June 2 when he was tagged for four homers and nine runs in five innings opposite Latos in Houston's 12-9 loss.

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