Astros-Reds Preview

The Cincinnati Reds will get the opportunity to clinch the NL

Central title in front of their home fans.

With their magic number at one, the Reds look to secure their

first division title in 15 years in Tuesday night’s opener against

the Houston Astros.

Cincinnati (87-69) could have clinched its first division title

since 1995 on its day off Monday with a St. Louis loss, but the

Cardinals defeated Pittsburgh 6-4. The Reds trimmed their magic

number to one with Sunday’s 12-2 win in San Diego, salvaging the

finale of a three-game series.

“It would have been nice to clinch here so we can tear this

clubhouse up, but hopefully we just clinch it at home and just get

it over with,” Brandon Phillips said. “It doesn’t really matter

where, as long as it happens.”

It should happen soon, considering the Reds are an NL-best 12-4

at home since Aug. 13 and have won nine of the last 10 against

Houston at Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati is 8-4 against the

Astros this season, but dropped two of three in Houston from Sept.

17-19.

Edinson Volquez (4-3, 4.45 ERA) takes the ball in the opener for

the Reds looking to continue his dominance over Houston while

improving his chances of pitching in the postseason.

While Bronson Arroyo (16-10) and Johnny Cueto (12-6) are both

expected to be Cincinnati’s first two playoff pitchers, Volquez,

who returned in July after missing nearly a year following Tommy

John surgery, is making a strong case to join them in the

rotation.

Volquez allowed one run and three hits in a season-high eight

innings in last Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Milwaukee, and is 1-1 with a

1.66 ERA in three starts since returning to rotation following a

brief stint in the minors.

“The more he pitches, the more he fits,” Dusty Baker said.

While Baker likes what he’s seeing from Volquez lately, the

right-hander has always looked sharp against the Astros, posting a

0.98 ERA in winning four career starts against them.

In his lone start against Houston at Great American Ball Park on

April 29, 2009, Volquez allowed one hit and a walk in eight innings

of a 3-0 victory.

The Astros (74-82) have lost five of seven since playing the

Reds just over a week ago. With Sunday’s 9-3 loss to Pittsburgh,

Houston dropped its second consecutive series after losing just one

of its previous eight.

“These guys have done a great job since June and we don’t want

to lose that momentum, lose what we accomplished up from June until

now,” manager Brad Mills told the Astros’ official website. “It’s

so easy to lose track of all the good things that have gone on for

the last three months (based on) the last week.”

In the opener, Mills turns to Wandy Rodriguez (11-12, 3.67), who

gave up three runs and six hits over 6 1-3 innings in a 4-3 loss to

Washington on Wednesday, but didn’t get a decision. The left-hander

has allowed three runs in each of his last three starts after

yielding two earned runs or fewer in each of his previous nine.

Rodriguez was a little shaky against Cincinnati on Sept. 17,

giving up three runs, three hits and a career high-tying six walks

in six innings of a 5-3 win without a decision. In his lone start

of the season at Great American Ball Park on May 28, Rodriquez was

tagged for eight runs in 3 1-3 innings in a 15-6 loss.