Reds-Astros Preview

Since the All-Star break, the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds

have picked up three wins in Houston.

The last-place Astros have just as many victories in their home

ballpark over that same stretch.

The Reds look to win their fourth in a row and continue to make

things miserable for the Astros in Friday night’s series

opener.

Cincinnati (80-52) arrives in Houston after capping a three-game

sweep in Arizona with Wednesday’s 6-2 victory, which gave the Reds

one more win then they amassed all of last season.

“We know that we have to continue to win ballgames,” said Mat

Latos, Wednesday’s winning pitcher. “As long as we can win the

series, we’ve got a good chance of going somewhere.”

The Reds would appear to have a good chance of taking another

series with a stop in Houston. They’ve won seven of nine games

against the Astros this year and are 5-1 in Houston, which includes

a three-game sweep July 23-25.

The Astros (40-91), owner of baseball’s worst record, are 3-17

at home since the All-Star break and 8-48 overall since June

28.

Seemingly making matters worse for the Astros, who squandered a

4-0 lead in Thursday’s 8-4 loss to San Francisco, Cincinnati

expects to activate Joey Votto (left knee) from the disabled list

prior to Saturday’s game. The Reds have soared even without the

2010 NL MVP, going 30-14 to push their lead atop the Central to 8

1/2 games, up from one when he was first sidelined.

While Ryan Ludwick, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips

have all stepped up at times in Votto’s absence, Phillips and

Frazier have been carrying the Reds lately. Phillips is batting

.440 with two homers and six RBIs in his last six games, while

Frazier is hitting .360 with 13 RBIs and 12 runs in his last

14.

Bruce, hitting .167 with two RBIs in his last six games, has led

the way against the Astros this year, batting .385 with four home

runs and 10 RBIs. He is 2 for 6 with a homer lifetime against

Houston’s Fernando Abad (0-1, 3.62 ERA), who is set to make his

second major league start.

Recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City prior to facing the New

York Mets on Saturday, Abad gave up one run, four hits and four

walks in four innings of a 3-1 loss. The left-hander had made 81

relief appearances over three seasons with the Astros – 30 this

year.

“I told you you were going to be pleased with Abad when he came

back,” said Houston manager Tony DeFrancesco, who also managed

Abad in the minors.

The Reds counter with Mike Leake (6-8, 4.51), who gave up two

runs while scattering 10 hits and walking none in 6 2-3 innings of

Saturday’s 8-2 win over St. Louis. The left-hander had permitted a

season-high seven runs in a loss to Philadelphia five days

earlier.

“That was the start he needed,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We’re

trying to get him back to .500.”

A start against the Astros might help him get closer to the

break-even mark. Leake has posted a 1.80 ERA while winning his last

two starts in the series – both in Houston.

Jose Altuve, the Astros’ top hitter at .297, is batting .143 (3

for 21) in his last six games, but is 4 for 9 lifetime against

Leake.