Astros-Reds Preview

The Cincinnati Reds are heading to the playoffs for the first

time in 15 years after clinching the NL Central title on a dramatic

game-ending home run.

For the Reds to have a decent chance of advancing past the

division series, however, they’re going to need Johnny Cueto to

pitch much better than his last outing.

Cueto, a possible starter for a playoff opener, looks to bounce

back from his worst performance of the year when he takes the ball

against the Houston Astros on Wednesday night.

Cincinnati (88-69) won its first division title since 1995 with

a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Astros on Tuesday. With the game

tied at 2, Jay Bruce led off the ninth with a homer, spurring a

raucous celebration at home plate.

“When he hit that one up there, there was a big sigh of relief

and the party was on,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I’m as happy as a

man can be. This is sweet. This is a special group, special guys

and a special feeling.”

With the Reds celebrating the division championship long after

Bruce’s clutch homer, it’s uncertain what kind of lineup Baker will

use for this game.

Baker also has time to set his starting rotation for the

playoffs with Cueto (12-6, 3.73 ERA) and Bronson Arroyo (16-10,

3.97) the likely candidates to take the mound in the first

game.

Cueto’s chances of pitching Game 1 seemed to take a bit of a

hit, however, after he was pounded for eight runs and eight hits in

a season-low 1 1-3 innings in last Wednesday’s 13-1 loss to

Milwaukee. The right-hander had a 2.18 ERA in his previous five

starts.

“I wasn’t locating the pitches how I wanted,” Cueto told the

Reds’ official website. “I was opening up too much and I was

landing standing up. So my pitches weren’t locating. After I

finished and watched the video, that’s what I figured out.”

Before getting hit hard by the Brewers, Cueto didn’t receive a

decision after allowing three runs in six innings of a 5-3 win at

Houston on Sept. 17. He is 1-1 with a 2.18 ERA in five starts

against the Astros since the start of last season.

Cueto has done a good job of shutting down slugger Carlos Lee,

who is 1 for 14 against him since 2009.

The Astros (74-83) lost their third straight Tuesday and have

dropped six of seven after winning six of eight. They haven’t lost

four in a row since Aug. 4-8.

“We wanted to win all three games and make them clinch against

somebody else,” said reliever Tim Byrdak, who served up Bruce’s

homer.

Nelson Figueroa (5-4, 3.81), who struggled against Cincinnati

less than two weeks ago, is scheduled to pitch for the Astros.

After going 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA in his first six starts since

being moved to the rotation, Figueroa has yielded five runs in each

of his last two – both losses.

The right-hander gave up seven hits in 4 1-3 innings in an 11-1

defeat to the Reds on Sept. 18 before allowing six hits – two

homers – in six innings of a 7-2 loss at Washington on

Thursday.