CINCINNATI -- With the 2012 season at the midway point, the National League Central race is set to begin heating up.
The Reds held at least a piece of the top spot in the division for more than 40 days, before watching it slip away to the Pirates just days before the All-Star break.
Cincinnati currently sits one game behind Pittsburgh, with St. Louis closing in, just a game and a half behind the Reds.
"It's a good race," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "That's why it's called a race. I know everybody wants a runaway, but there are very few runaways."
The Reds ended the first half on an 11-game West Coast road trip, during which the team finished 6-5, capped by a three-game sweep of the Padres.
"I always want more," Baker said. "That's a tough road trip that's been the downfall of many teams. We had an opportunity to even win a couple more. You're always greedy, you always want more."
Cincinnati opens the second half slate with a three-game series against the Cards, a well-known division rival.
The Reds haven't faced St. Louis since mid-April. Outfielder Chris Heisey said the matchup will be a good test for determining where the team stands heading into the second half.
"It'll be a good series and a good barometer," Heisey said. "We've haven't played them in a little while and it's always good competition, so it'll be fun. I love playing the division rivals, because they're big games. You can gain or lose ground really quickly against the top of the division rivals."
The Reds will have to wait until August to face the Prates again. The current division leaders closed the first half with wins in 10 of their last 12 games.
"They've been scoring runs and it's been amazing to see," Heisey said of the Pirates. "The nights they're not scoring runs, their pitching steps up."
Heisey complimented both pitcher A.J. Burnett and center fielder Andrew McCutchen for their parts in the Pirates' success, and drew comparisons to Cincinnati squads from a few years ago.
The Reds failed to record a winning season from 2001-2009 before making the playoffs again in 2010.
The Pirates have 20 consecutive losing season under their belts, dating back to 1992.
"Kind of similar to us two years ago, they're starting to believe they can win and I think that's just about as important as anything in this game," Heisey said. "If you show up to the park expecting to lose, you're going to lose, but if you come to the park and have success like they've had, and starting believing it, it's a lot easier to win."
The Reds hold the third-best record in the NL, behind just the Pirates and the Nationals, and Baker said the best is still in store for Cincinnati.
"I feel good about [the second half]. I feel great," Baker said. "We haven't hit our stride yet, we haven't played our best baseball for an extended period of time, so you've got to feel good about it."
Rolen trying to find groove in injury-plagued season
CINCINNATI -- At age 37, Scott Rolen knows his days in the Major Leagues are numbered.
That doesn't mean the seven-time All-Star wants to play any less.
The Reds' third baseman has been plagued with injuries throughout the 2012 campaign, and finally made his way back to the lineup in the final game heading into the All-Star break after missing a week because of back spasms.
Rolen also missed a month of action in May and June, nursing an injury to his left shoulder.
"It's tough because of the injuries here," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "It's tough to get going if you haven't played for a while. It's extremely tough. It's hard to just jump back in there and be at the top of your game."
Rolen is batting just .178 with 16 RBIs in 129 at-bats this season, never seeming to find a groove for an extended period of time.
Filling in for the 17-year veteran is a rookie, Todd Frazier.
Frazier, who can also play left field, came into the season as Rolen's backup, but has seen significant time at third with Rolen's injuries.
Baker revealed that Frazier was in the club's future plans, but also expressed the desire to keep his veteran sharp in the final year of his contract.
"We've got to play [Rolen] in order for him to get to the top of his game," Baker said. "But at the same time, I've got to be smart about trying to do what's best for Scottie and do what's best for us, too."
Frazier is batting .278 in 180 at-bats this year, chalking up 50 hits, nine homers and 29 RBIs.
The Reds signed outfielder Xavier Paul to a Minor League contract on Thursday afternoon.
Cincinnati's All-Stars -- Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Aroldis Chapman -- were given an extra day off for Thursday's workout after helping the National League to an 8-0 win in Tuesday's Midsummer Classic. They will return to the team Friday.
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.