(Sports Network) - Despite splitting its last six games, Cincinnati still seems like a safe bet to win the National League Central for the first time since 1995.
The Reds draw a favorable matchup this weekend as they aim to defeat the hosting Houston Astros for the eighth time in 10 meetings this year in tonight's opener of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
Jonny Gomes drove in Cincinnati's only run with a first-inning double and Edinson Volquez allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings in the close loss, striking out seven.
"We're playing good baseball. We just got to continue doing what we're doing," Gomes said.
The Reds saw their edge over the second-place Cardinals dip to seven games, while their magic number to clinch the division remained at 10.
Facing the Astros should help lower that number.
Cincinnati is 7-2 versus Houston this year and has already won five of the six meetings at Minute Maid Park.
The Reds, though, didn't look like a playoff team when they last played in Houston, as tonight's starter for the Astros, Wandy Rodriguez, held them to just one hit and two walks over seven scoreless innings on July 25, striking out seven in the win. That outing evened Rodriguez's career mark versus Cincinnati to 7-7 to go along with a 4.20 earned run average in 18 starts.
Rodriguez has won five of his last six decisions, but hasn't gotten one in his last two starts. That includes Saturday versus the Dodgers after the 31-year- old southpaw allowed three runs on five hits and three walks over seven innings, striking out 10.
In 29 starts this year, Rodriguez is 11-12 with a 3.62 ERA and 7-5 with a 2.71 ERA in 15 outings at home.
The Reds counter with Johnny Cueto, who bested the Astros on July 24 on the day before Rodriguez's gem. The right-hander gave up four hits and struck out six over eight scoreless innings, getting his first win in five career decisions versus Houston.
Cueto, 24, has already set a career high for wins in a season with his 12-5 mark that compliments a 3.31 ERA over 28 starts. He pitched well enough to get his 13th win on Sunday versus the Pirates, hurling seven scoreless innings while scattering three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts, but got a no- decision in team's 3-1 loss.
The Astros will face Cueto after Wednesday's 8-6 extra-inning loss to the Brewers.
Houston erased an early five-run deficit with a six-run fifth inning, getting a two-run hit out of Brian Bogusevic in the frame before Hunter Pence capped the burst with an RBI hit of his own, but Brandon Lyon failed to protect the one-run lead in the ninth before Matt Lindstrom allowed two runs in the 10th inning to take the loss.
Starter J.A. Happ allowed five runs over 4 1/3 innings.
"You have to try to put zeroes up and I was able to for a few innings but they found a way, again," Happ said. "You have to try to be economical with your pitches but it just wasn't my day today."
Houston had a three-game winning streak end and lost for just the third time in nine games.