Reds-Phillies Preview

Many expected the Philadelphia Phillies to pile up wins behind a

potent offense this year. Just past the midpoint of the season,

it’s been the Cincinnati Reds using that formula.

In their final series before the All-Star break, the

high-powered Reds look to continue their surge when they open a

four-game set against the struggling Phillies at Citizens Bank Park

on Thursday night.

After having one of the NL’s worst records at last year’s

All-Star break, Cincinnati (49-37) looks like it will head into

this season’s break atop the Central for the first time since 1995.

The Reds, who haven’t won the division since ’95, have a

season-best three-game lead over second-place St. Louis.

“We’ve got four more tough days in Philly,” manager Dusty Baker

told the Reds’ official website. “We’ll just go all out. I told

everybody I just want them totally exhausted after that game Sunday

and hopefully we’ll come away with a lot more victories.”

Cincinnati is winning behind an offense that ranks first in the

NL in runs (427), homers (106) and slugging percentage (.448), with

Joey Votto and All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips leading the

charge.

Phillips homered and drove in two runs in Wednesday’s 3-1 win

over the Mets, giving him three home runs and five RBIs in his last

six games.

Votto, one of four finalists for the last NL roster spot for

next week’s All-Star game, leads the league with 21 homers, a .417

on-base percentage and a .588 slugging percentage. The first

baseman went 6 for 13 with two home runs and five RBIs in three

games against Philadelphia last month.

The Reds are a major league-best 11-4 since June 21, taking two

of three from the Phillies at Great American Ball Park from June

28-30.

Philadelphia (43-40) has lost six of eight and dropped six games

back of NL East-leading Atlanta with a 7-5 defeat to the Braves on

Wednesday.

The Phillies led the league in scoring last season but are sixth

this year. Injuries have slowed that production, as five-time

All-Star second baseman Chase Utley and third baseman Placido

Polanco are on the disabled list.

“We try, but that little spark, that little swagger, just enough

cockiness to make you good, something’s missing there; that’s what

we got to get back,” manager Charlie Manuel said.

In the opener, Manuel will give the ball to Kyle Kendrick (5-3,

4.70 ERA), who is coming off his first major league complete

game.

Kendrick allowed four runs and scattered 10 hits while throwing

115 pitches in a 12-4 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday. The

right-hander, who was 1-1 with a 6.04 ERA in his previous four

starts, will need more outings like that if he is to keep his spot

in the rotation with J.A. Happ recovered from a left forearm strain

and pitching in Triple-A.

That could be tough for Kendrick considering he was knocked

around for six runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 7-3 loss

in Cincinnati on June 28.

The Reds counter with Johnny Cueto (8-2, 3.56), who opposed

Kendrick and got the win in that game after allowing one run and

six hits in eight innings.

Against the Cubs on Saturday, Cueto didn’t receive a decision

after constantly working out of trouble. He allowed seven hits and

a season-worst five walks in five innings of a 3-1 loss.

The right-hander has one defeat in his last 13 starts and a 0.70

ERA in his past four.