ST. LOUIS -- The National League Central is the tightest race in baseball, with the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds at the top -- and things are about to get very interesting in the next couple of weeks.
Beginning Monday, seven of Cincinnati's next 10 games are against St. Louis. The two teams will play again Sept. 2-5 at Great American Ball Park. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are starting a stretch of 13 straight games against either the Reds or Pirates. Following that, they don't face a team currently over .500 the rest of the season.
Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick is a big proponent of trying to win every series possible. But what about looking at two of the next three series?
"No. The way I was taught was, you focus on the game at task, which is tonight," Ludwick said on Monday. "The bigger picture for me would be the series. Obviously, tonight is Game 1, but you want to win the series. If you win 80 percent of your series during the season, you're going to be in the postseason. Everybody knows it's a big game, a big series. It's the Cardinals. They're ahead of us. The Pirates are ahead of us."
"The more you play somebody, the more familiar you are with somebody," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of facing St. Louis. "If I had my preference, I would prefer an off-day vs. 17 in a row before we play them. But it is what it is. You play by it and abide by it."
Votto loses track of outs in decisive seventh
ST. LOUIS -- Even the best player on a team makes mistakes. In Monday night's 8-6 loss to the Cardinals, Reds first baseman Joey Votto lost track of how many outs there were.
During the seventh inning, while the Reds held a 5-4 lead, the bases were loaded when Jon Jay bounced a slow hopper toward first base against reliever Manny Parra. Playing back, Votto ran and touched the bag, put his head down and headed toward the third-base dugout as if the inning was over.
One problem -- there were only two outs. Did Votto forget how many outs there were?
"You can go with that if you want," Votto replied.
"It kind of looked like it," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
It was a poor miscue under the circumstances but not costly in itself. The ball was hit slow enough that Votto had no play at the plate on David Freese, who scored, or a chance for a double play.
J.J. Hoover would walk the next batter, Matt Holliday, before giving up a grand slam to Allen Craig that would help give St. Louis the win.
Cueto joins Reds on trip to continue rehab
ST. LOUIS -- For the first time since he made his third trip to the disabled list in June, Reds ace Johnny Cueto accompanied the team on the road trip to continue his throwing program.
The main reason is so Cueto can work under the supervision of pitching coaches Bryan Price and Mack Jenkins, head trainer Paul Lessard and strength coach Matt Krause.
"He's been out at Beacon Medical while we've been on the road. He's been working hard," Price said. "Now that he's throwing ... we can really monitor how he's throwing, the duration and things of that nature."
Cueto threw again on the field, this time at Busch Stadium, on Monday afternoon. He has been making steady progress.
"He's throwing like he's never been injured," Price said. "However, it hasn't been until we've gotten back to the mound when at times he's started to feel the discomfort. We are just trying to be cautiously optimistic that his worst days are behind him."
As for the days ahead, it remains to be seen if Cueto can get ready in time to help the Reds in the stretch run or postseason. He has yet to throw from a mound.
"I really don't know. He thinks so. That's where it starts," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It would be big, whether we got him back starting or relieving."
The Reds are keeping an open mind, thus far, about the type of role Cueto would return to for this season.
"The only thing we can really look at right now is the progression that he makes, how much time we're going to have in the season by the time he's ready to start a rehab assignment," Price said. "If we're getting into the second half of September before he's going out on a rehab assignment, it'll be difficult to get him ready as a starter.
"However, we have to try and get him as much work as we can over the course of the time we have left and see what our options are. We might be able to stretch him out enough to start in that amount of time. We don't know that yet."
On road with Reds, Marshall at critical juncture
ST. LOUIS -- Reds lefty reliever Sean Marshall could be at a key point as he attempts to return from a sprained left shoulder. Marshall, who resumed a throwing program last week, has joined the club on the road trip to continue throwing. He's been on the disabled list since May 24.
Marshall took Sunday off after five straight days of throwing. The hope is he can increase the distance and intensity.
"His throwing mechanics look good. He's not having any discomfort in the area of concern," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said. "We're hoping we can add some aggressiveness to his throwing this week here on the road. This is really a time we have to find if he's healthy enough to be able to help us this year. If not, we'll have to change how we approach his injury."
Two quiet: Reds seek production in key slot
ST. LOUIS -- When the season started, manager Dusty Baker had the Reds' lineup all figured out -- namely that Brandon Phillips would bat second and Ryan Ludwick would take the fourth spot.
"That plan didn't make it one day," Baker said on Monday.
Ludwick tore the labrum in his right shoulder on Opening Day and missed over four months. Phillips took over the cleanup spot and has done well since. He remains there even with Ludwick back in the lineup, now hitting sixth.
But no one has picked up the slack for Phillips in the two-hole. The latest person to helm the spot -- third baseman Todd Frazier -- entered Monday night batting .179 with a .246 on-base percentage, two home runs and four RBIs in that slot. Zack Cozart struggled mightily there before Frazier and others have come and gone without great success.
The No. 2 spot in the Reds' lineup this season has batted .226 -- ranked 29th out of 30 clubs -- with a .272 on-base percentage.
"The rest of the guys aren't really suited to be in that spot," Baker said. "Either sometimes guys strike out or hit into double plays. They haven't learned yet how to manipulate the ball the other way. That is probably the hardest, most unselfish spot there is in the batting order.
"I was telling Joe Morgan, you would prefer that guy to be a left-handed batter to make use of that hole over there when the leadoff hitter gets on, and a guy that takes pitches for your leadoff guy to steal."