At the All-Star break, the race for the National League Central crown looked as though it might be a four-team affair down to the wire, with the Brewers leading the pack and the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates all within 3 1/2 games.
But as September approaches, that chase is increasingly shaping up to be a two-team battle. As Milwaukee maintains its division lead, St. Louis continues to remain a close second, trailing the Brewers by 2 1/2 games after beating the Reds on Tuesday night, 5-4, to improve to 11 games over .500 for the first time this season.
As St. Louis preserves its hold on the top NL Wild Card spot, spiraling in the opposite direction are the Reds, who were 1 1/2 game behind Milwaukee at the break, but have gone 10-21 since. Cincinnati now finds itself 10 games back in the division and five games out in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot.
With their postseason hopes hanging by a thread, the Reds will turn to their ace on Wednesday as they look to avoid a series sweep.
Johnny Cueto has been unstoppable lately. The All-Star, who is tied for the Major League lead with 15 wins, is 7-0 with a 2.24 ERA in his last eight starts, including 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA over his last five. He's riding a career-high seven-game winning streak.
"As a manager, it's very comfortable just being able to put all of your stock in one guy. You go all in with Johnny," Reds manager Bryan Price said after Cueto's last start, in which he allowed two runs on six hits over eight innings in a win over the Rockies at Coors Field. "You don't fear losing the game late. When he's in there, he's the best guy to be out on the field. He's so competitive. He doesn't give in."
The Cardinals, seeking their seventh win in their last eight games, will give the ball to Lance Lynn.
Lynn is coming off an outstanding effort against the Padres on Friday in which he allowed one run on six hits while walking one and fanning six in a 4-2 win. Over his last eight starts, the right-hander has posted a 1.97 ERA. He said that he is in better control of his emotions while on the mound than he was earlier in his career.
"There is a fine line between being productively emotional and being unproductive emotional," Lynn said. "I feel like I've found that line."
Reds: Hamilton needs to be more selective when stealing
Rookie center fielder Billy Hamilton has 46 stolen bases this season, the most by a Reds player since Deion Sanders swiped 56 bags in 1997.
But Hamilton also leads the Majors in number of times caught stealing, with 18. Price said he'd like to see Hamilton choose his spots to run more judiciously.
"To me, it's the evolution of a basestealer at this level," Price said. "The number of stolen bases is impressive, but we want to cut down on the number of caught stealing. That part of the education is getting a better understanding and taking the better opportunities when they are there, instead of forcing yourself into opportunities that are not there."
Cardinals: Ellis to DL; Garcia recalled
Prior to Tuesday's win over the Reds, the Cardinals placed second baseman Mark Ellis on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. They recalled utility infielder Greg Garcia from Triple-A Memphis.
Garcia batted .273 with 40 RBIs in 103 games for Memphis and had been hitting particularly well since the All-Star break, batting .326 with 19 runs and 12 RBIs in 29 games. He is able to play second, shortstop and third base.
"I think he's had the kind of year that deserves to get an opportunity to help us," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's had a nice season and is a pretty versatile guy."
Ellis was batting .192 with 12 RBIs in 167 at-bats.
• Jay Bruce is 9-for-19 (.474) with a double, two triples, two homers and eight RBIs in his career against Lynn. Brandon Phillips is 7-for-23 (.304) with two doubles and five RBIs against the right-hander.
• Matt Holliday and Jon Jay have both had success in their careers against Cueto. Holliday is 9-for-30 (.300) with three doubles and five RBIs. Jay is 10-for-21 (.476) with a double, three home runs and seven RBIs.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.