Twins-Reds Preview

The Associated Press

The first-place Cincinnati Reds had not lost three straight games since mid-April until their current slump.

With Homer Bailey on the mound and the AL-worst Minnesota Twins in town, things seem bound to change.

Cincinnati looks to avoid a season-worst four-game skid Friday night when it begins its first series with the Twins in nearly 11 years.

The Reds (38-30) entered their series with Cleveland riding a season-best six-game winning streak, but they were swept for the first time in 2012 with Wednesday's 8-1 loss, marking the fewest runs they've scored all month.

NL Central-leading Cincinnati hadn't lost three straight since April 12-14, and its three hits Wednesday were its fewest since a season-worst two on the final day of that slump.

"It was a tough three days,'' manager Dusty Baker said. "The first two days we had chances to win those games. They beat us up good (Wednesday). It's a strange game.

"It will be nice to get home."

The Reds hope Bailey can help them bounce back in the opener of their first series with Minnesota since July 6-8, 2001, when the Twins won all three games at home.

With the exception of allowing six runs over three innings in a loss to Pittsburgh on June 5, Bailey (5-4, 4.03 ERA) has been solid over his last seven starts. He improved to 4-1 with a 3.35 ERA in that stretch after giving up one run in eight innings of a 4-1 road win against the Mets on Saturday.

"Homer was outstanding,'' Baker said. "He's been pitching well."

He hasn't been nearly as good at home, going 1-2 with a 5.35 ERA while allowing nine homers in 33 2-3 innings. He's 4-2 with a 3.09 ERA on the road, holding opponents to two homers in 46 2-3.

Bailey has also struggled in his last six interleague starts, going 1-3 with a 4.72 ERA while the Reds have lost five times.

Minnesota (27-41), meanwhile, has dropped six of its last eight interleague contests after Thursday's 9-1 loss to Pittsburgh.

"As the story goes, if you don't pitch, you get whacked,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Somehow, that hasn't been the case recently when Nick Blackburn has pitched.

Blackburn (3-4, 7.48) is 3-0 with an 8.22 ERA in five starts - all Twins victories - since May 11 after allowing four runs in six innings Sunday against Milwaukee. He was 0-4 with a 6.84 ERA in his first five starts.

The right-hander has walked 11 and struck out 10 in his last five as opponents have hit .347.

Blackburn, who has never faced the Reds, has been awful in interleague play over the past few years as well, going 1-4 with a 10.57 ERA over his last seven crossover starts.

Brandon Phillips was hitting .415 with three homers and 11 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak that ended with Wednesday's 0-for-3 performance, but the Reds have reason to expect to bounce back at home. They've averaged 5.7 runs and hit .300 in nine games at Great American Ball Park this month.

Phillips is 15 for 34 (.441) with three homers in his last eight home games.

Minnesota also struggled offensively in its series finale, as Justin Morneau went 2 for 3 with a double as the only Twin with multiple hits.

That marked Morneau's first extra-base hit since June 12, going 4 for 25 in the six games in between.

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