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Astros Open Road Set With Cincinnati Reds

(Sports Network) - The champagne and other adult beverages will be on ice tonight in Cincinnati, as the Reds try to clinch their first National League Central title since 1995 in the opener of a three-game series versus the Houston Astros at Great American Ball Park.

The Reds have already earned at least a share of the NL Central crown and are six games ahead of St. Louis with six to play, including three more bouts with Milwaukee in the Queen City. They are probably glad to be home with a magic number of one after completing a nine-game road trip with a 4-5 mark.

Cincinnati salvaged the finale of a three-game set in San Diego with Sunday's 12-2 pounding of the hosts at Petco Park. Joey Votto, who's been a huge reason for the Reds' success in 2010, finished 2-for-4 with a home run, three RBI and three runs scored, while Brandon Phillips clubbed a two-run shot and Chris Heisey recorded a home run and a three-run double.

"Our offense came alive," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We were hoping to celebrate here. ... It's better to do it at home, in front of the home people."

Winning pitcher Homer Bailey lasted seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits. He also struck out six and walked one.

Cincinnati aims to keep the bats going tonight for starter Edinson Volquez, who can pitch his ballclub to the playoffs with a decent performance. Volquez threw eight innings of one-run ball in last Tuesday's 4-3 victory at Milwaukee and struck out six batters. He is 4-3 in 11 starts this season and was able to lower his earned run average to 4.45.

Volquez, a right-hander, was 0-2 in four starts before beating the Brewers and looks to keep his perfect record against Houston intact. In four career meetings with the NL Central-rival Astros, Volquez is 4-0 with a microscopic 0.98 ERA over 27 2/3 innings.

Houston will resume a 10-game road trip Tuesday and lost two of three at Pittsburgh over the weekend. It is 2-5 on the trek and sustained a 9-3 setback in Sunday's series finale at PNC Park, as J.A. Happ was dealt the loss for giving up two unearned runs and four hits in six innings. Mark Melancon yielded two runs and Felipe Paulino gave up four in relief.

"We've been struggling a little bit, we didn't do a lot of good things today," said Happ. "We have to try to regroup and finish strong these last two series and get back to the way we were playing about a week ago."

Carlos Lee had an RBI double and Hunter Pence clubbed a two-run homer for the Astros, who will close out the 2010 campaign with three games at home versus the Chicago Cubs.

Wandy Rodriguez draws the start for Houston this evening and has posted four straight no-decisions since winning consecutive starts in late August. He has allowed three runs in each of his last three appearances and pitched 6 1/3 innings in last Wednesday's 4-3 loss at Washington. Rodriguez allowed six hits and struck out six batters.

The lefty is 11-12 with a 3.67 earned run average in 31 starts this season. In 19 lifetime starts against Cincinnati, Rodriguez owns a 7-7 mark with a 4.22 ERA. He tossed six innings of three-run ball versus the Reds on Sept. 17.

Cincinnati has won eight of 12 meetings with Houston this season, but the Astros are 3-1 in the past four encounters. The Reds have won nine of the last 10 matchups at Great American Ball Park.

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