St. Louis (46-41) at Cincinnati (48-38), 8:05 p.m. EDT
The All-Star break hasn’t seemed to slow down the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds.
If they are to extend their winning streak to six and complete a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night, though, they’ll need to do it without their ace.
Johnny Cueto was scheduled to start, but following Saturday’s 3-2, 10-inning victory, the Reds (49-38) announced their 10-game winner would be scratched because of a blister, developed on the index finger of his pitching hand during a bullpen session. He is tentatively scheduled to pitch against Arizona on Tuesday.
Homer Bailey (7-6, 4.14 ERA) will get the start instead for a Reds team trying to move 12 games above .500 for the first time in 2012. Cincinnati matched its season high-water mark Saturday after Ryan Ludwick’s game-ending homer game the team its fifth straight win.
The Reds have won three straight against St. Louis (46-42) after losing four of the season’s first five meetings, and are seeking their first sweep of the Cardinals since May 13-15, 2011. The Cardinals, who have dropped 3 1/2 games out of first, haven’t been swept by anyone since May 18-20 of this season against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“One of our philosophies is trying to win every series,” Ludwick said. “We have the chance (Sunday) to do something that doesn’t happen too often against that ballclub.”
Bailey might be up to the challenge of replacing Cueto, seeing as he’s pitched well in his last two starts, but those outings came against struggling offenses in pitcher-friendly parks.
Bailey has allowed four earned runs over 14 2-3 innings to win road starts this month against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego. He’d yielded eight earned runs over 9 1-3 innings while losing his previous two outings – both at home – and is 0-3 with an 8.05 ERA in his last four starts at Great American Ball Park.
The right-hander made his season debut against the Cardinals in Cincinnati on April 9, yielding four runs and six hits – including homers to All-Stars Matt Holliday, David Freese and Yadier Molina – in 5 2-3 innings of a 7-1 loss.
Holliday is batting .389 with two homers in 18 career at-bats against Bailey, while Freese is 3 for 11 with two home runs and a double.
Holliday extended his hitting streak to a season-high 13 games with a sixth-inning single Saturday, but also left four men on base. The Cardinals, who had won six of eight before the break, went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners.
“We had some opportunities and we had some guys up there that come through in those situations more often,” manager Mike Matheny said.
In the series finale, Matheny will give the ball to Jake Westbrook (7-7, 3.75), who opposed Bailey back in April and allowed an unearned run and three hits in seven innings to get the victory.
Westbrook’s last start came against Miami on July 6, when he gave up two runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 3-2 loss. Despite the defeat – his first since June 8 – the veteran right-hander has a 2.67 ERA in his last five outings.
Westbrook has had some success against Cincinnati slugger Joey Votto, limiting him to one hit in nine at-bats along with five walks, but will have to be careful pitching to red-hot Brandon Phillips.
Phillips is 8 for 14 with four runs in his last three games, and is batting .412 with two doubles in 17 career at-bats against Westbrook.
The Reds are 28-6 when Phillips scores a run and 18-28 when he doesn’t.