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.
|July 16, 2012||Joey Votto||Day-to-Day||Torn meniscus, left knee - out 3-4 weeks|
|July 16, 2012||Joey Votto||15-Day DL||Torn meniscus, left knee|
|June 30, 2012||Joey Votto||Day-to-Day||Left game - left knee inflammation|
|June 28, 2012||Brandon Phillips||Day-to-Day||Head|
|June 12, 2012||Zack Cozart||Day-to-Day||Illness|
|June 06, 2012||Drew Stubbs||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
|July 15, 2012||Jed Lowrie||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|July 14, 2012||Jed Lowrie||Day-to-Day||Right ankle|
|July 08, 2012||Jason Castro||15-Day DL||Fluid in right knee|
|June 26, 2012||Justin Maxwell||15-Day DL||Loose bodies in left ankle|
|June 26, 2012||Justin Maxwell||15-Day DL||Loose bodies in left ankle|
|June 24, 2012||Jose Altuve||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right hamstring|
HOUSTON (AP) -- The Cincinnati Reds were happy to get a lopsided win after a string of close victories where they needed closer Aroldis Chapman in three of the last four games.
They only wish Monday night's 8-3 victory over the Houston Astros wouldn't have taken so long.
"It was a long night," manager Dusty Baker said of the 3-hour, 56-minute contest. "That was the longest nine-inning game that I've played in a long time. If you're going to play that long, you might as well win."
Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier had three hits and two RBIs each and Brandon Phillips continued his solid play since the injury to Joey Votto with three hits to help the Reds to the win.
Ludwick connected on an RBI double in Cincinnati's two-run third inning and added a run with a single in the eighth. Frazier singled in a run in the first and had an RBI double in the eighth.
Phillips has 12 hits and nine RBIs in the eight games since moving to the third spot in the batting order when Votto went on the disabled list after arthroscopic surgery to repair his injured left knee.
The Reds have remained on track since Votto's injury, winning five straight and six of eight to stay atop the NL Central standings.
The loss was Houston's seventh straight and the Astros have lost 10 of 11 since the All-Star break including a 1-10 road trip.
Reds starter Mat Latos (8-3) allowed eight hits and two runs in five innings to bounce back from his last outing where he gave up six hits and five runs in 4 2-3 innings for his first loss since April 18.
Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez (7-9) allowed seven hits and three runs with six strikeouts in six innings. It was the third straight loss for the left-hander who continues to be the subject of trade rumors.
"I have no control of that," Rodriguez said when asked if the trade talk is a distraction. "I don't know what's going to happen with me, so I only wait. I don't know what decision the organization (is going to make)."
Chris Johnson tied a career high with four hits and drove in a run for Houston.
"We're trying not to believe in personal goals around here and just trying to turn this thing around, so I'd rather take an 0-for for a win," he said.
The Reds got contributions up and down the order on Monday as they matched their season high with 17 hits.
"We got some big hits tonight," Baker said. "Their record isn't good right now but they never quit. You can see, they kept fighting and fighting and we had to add on some more runs and get out of some tough jams and got the win."
Drew Stubbs and Phillips hit consecutive one-out singles in the first inning before Stubbs advanced to third on a flyout. Frazier's RBI single to left field scored Stubbs to put Cincinnati up 1-0.
The Astros failed to capitalize on opportunities early. Johnson singled to start the second inning and Ben Francisco singled with one out. Latos plunked Chris Snyder in the arm to load the bases with two outs, but retired Rodriguez to end the threat.
Stubbs singled and stole second in the third inning. He scored on a double by Ludwick with one out to make it 2-0. Scott Rolen drew a two-out walk and Chris Heisey followed with an RBI single to right to push the lead to 3-0.
Rodriguez allowed just one hit after that - a single by Phillips in the fourth inning - before he was replaced by Wilton Lopez for the seventh. The Reds had a baserunner in both the fifth and sixth innings thanks to errors by the Astros.
Johnson singled in the fourth inning and Francisco added a single with one out. Latos intentionally walked Snyder with two outs, but Rodriguez extended his season-long drought to 0-for-37 with a flyout to end the inning.
Jose Altuve singled in the fifth before a double by Marwin Gonzalez down the left field line. Latos looked to have tweaked his left ankle on the pitch. He chatted with trainers for a bit before taking some warmup pitches and remaining in the game.
Baker said Latos sprained his ankle, but the pitcher said after the game that he was OK.
"I felt it the rest of the inning, especially the last couple of pitches," he said. "But it's fine now."
Altuve scored on a groundout by Scott Moore to cut Cincinnati's lead to 3-1. Johnson's one-out double, which bounced off the bullpen in right-center, scored Gonzalez to make it 3-2. A single by Justin Maxwell put runners at the corners. Maxwell stole second with two outs before Cincinnati intentionally walked Jordan Schafer to load the bases for the third time.
Latos retired Snyder to limit the damage and end his night. Rolen's RBI double to the corner in right field extended Cincinnati's lead to 4-2 in the seventh inning. Heisey singled with one out and Ryan Hanigan reached on a fielder's choice that left Rolen out at home.
Pinch-hitter Jay Bruce 's RBI single to right left the Reds up 5-2.
Hanigan drove in the last of Cincinnati's eighth-inning runs with a single.
Houston added a run in the eighth when Snyder scored after Gonzalez grounded into a forceout.
NOTES: The series continues Tuesday when Cincinnati's Mike Leake opposes rookie Lucas Harrell . ... Phillips is hitting .409 since the break. ... Bruce has 60 RBIs to lead the team.