(AP) — The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals have been locked in a battle for NL Central supremacy for most of the season. A three-game series at Great American Ball Park may only tighten the race, especially with Chris Carpenter set to take the mound.
The Cardinals ace looks to help his team close the gap on the division-leading Reds in the series opener Monday night.
Cincinnati (64-48) is two games up on St. Louis (61-49) in a race in which the clubs have alternated atop the standings 17 times since May 15.
Continued dominance from Carpenter (12-3, 2.91 ERA) could put the Cardinals on the way to making it 18 by the end of the series. The All-Star right-hander has won eight consecutive starts against the Reds with a 1.09 ERA, beating them three times this year.
Carpenter threw a gem in his latest meeting with Cincinnati on June 2, yielding one run and four hits in eight innings of a 4-1 victory.
He enters this matchup red-hot, going 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his last five starts – all of which have resulted in St. Louis wins.
Carpenter allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1-3 innings of an 8-4 victory over Houston on Wednesday.
The Cardinals, who had the finale of their three-game set at Florida postponed because of rain, have won seven of 12 season meetings with the Reds. The clubs have split six matchups at Cincinnati.
The Reds have won nine of 11, outscoring opponents 70-33 during that span. They extended their winning streak to four by beating Chicago 11-4 on Sunday.
Manager Dusty Baker is looking forward to the matchup with the Cardinals.
“Its time,” Baker said. “They had been wanting us to focus on it but we had to focus on the Cubs. To come in here and get a sweep in Chicago is big for us.”
Joey Votto had two hits, two RBIs and four runs Sunday. He is hitting .325 with two home runs and three RBIs against St. Louis this season, and is 6 for 15 with a homer off Carpenter.
Jonny Gomes is also hot, going 6 for 17 with two doubles and seven runs in five games. He had a hit, four walks and four runs Sunday.
The left fielder has gone 8 for 14 with two homers and three RBIs in four home games against St. Louis.
“We’re playing good right now,” said Gomes, 0 for 7 with five strikeouts against Carpenter.
The Reds will give the ball to rookie Mike Leake (7-3, 3.86), who lost his last two starts with a 7.94 ERA.
The right-hander was a victim of a big inning Tuesday, giving up six of seven runs in the second before getting pulled after the fifth in a 7-6 loss at Pittsburgh.
Leake won his only meeting with St. Louis on May 15 by outpitching Adam Wainwright in a 4-3 home victory. He allowed two runs and struck out five in six innings.
Leake held Albert Pujols to a single while walking him twice – once intentionally – in that contest.
Pujols has gone 16 for 32 with five homers and 11 RBIs in the last seven games, and has a .381 average with three homers and 12 RBIs against the Reds this year.