CINCINNATI – As much as they hate the label of slow starters, the Houston Astros are earning it every time out.
Brandon Phillips and Paul Janish had three hits apiece Wednesday night, and the Cincinnati Reds overcame a four-run deficit and remained the NL's only unbeaten team with a 12-4 victory over the winless Astros.
The Reds are off to one of their best starts, the NL's only unbeaten team at 5-0. They've scored 43 runs through five games, their second-highest total in modern history.
The Big Red Machine scored 44 runs in the first five games of its 1976 World Series title season, sweeping Houston 11-5, 13-7 and 9-3 in its opening series while beating J.R. Richard, Larry Dierker and Joe Niekro.
Thirty-five years later, Houston is taking another April beating in Cincinnati.
"They seem to take advantage of every little thing, every little mistake the pitcher makes, every ball that falls in," said Nelson Figueroa (0-1), who couldn't hold a four-run lead. "They're very aggressive. It's a testament to the way they played all last year, and they continue to this year.
"You've got to raise the level of your game to compete with that," he said.
Instead, the Astros imploded, committing a season-high five errors while falling to 0-5. They're the only winless team in the NL, three losses away from matching their 0-8 start of last season.
Houston went only 17-34 in the season's first two months last year, then finished strong. The Astros were determined not to fall flat again.
"We haven't won a game — that's the most frustrating," said center fielder Michael Bourn, who left in the seventh with stiff muscles in his groin. "I know our team's good enough to win.
"We're tired of being known for getting off to slow starts. It's only the fifth game. It's early."
After scoring four runs in the top of the first inning, they had a feeling this could be the breakthrough win.
Reds starter Edinson Volquez (1-0) was coming off a rough time on opening day, throwing 30 pitches and giving up three runs in the first inning against the Brewers. The Reds rallied for a 7-6 win on Ramon Hernandez's two-out, three-run homer in the ninth.
The first inning again was a big problem for Volquez, who was on the mound for 23 minutes and 44 pitches this time. The Astros came in batting only .215 with five walks and one stolen base in their first four games.
Houston sent 10 batters to the plate for four runs — the most it has scored in any of its first five games. Volquez walked three and gave up four singles, including Chris Johnson's two-run hit. The Astros even pulled off a double steal.
"We came out like gangbusters and got four runs in the first," Figueroa said. "That's huge for us."
Just like opening day, Volquez settled down and the Reds pulled off a big comeback. This one came with one bizarre twist or two.
The Reds sent nine batters to the plate in the third for five runs and a 6-4 lead. Scott Rolen doubled home a pair of runs to get it going.
Then, things got wacky. Figueroa fumbled a comeback grounder for an error that let a run score. Then, the Reds pulled off a double steal and catcher J.R. Towles hit Hernandez's bat as he tried to throw to third to get the runner. The ball skipped out of his hand and bounced into the stands for another run-producing error.
That's how the season has gone for the young Astros.
The Reds batted around again in the sixth for four more runs, aided by another error — this one by Johnson at third base. Joey Votto had an RBI double, and Phillips bowled over Towles to score from third on a ground ball.
Manager Brad Mills talked to his players on the bench as the beating wound down.
"I didn't need to address them as a whole," he said. "We talked about some things on the bench, different situations that came up."
NOTES: Mills said reliever Alberto Arias felt fine a day after he threw 60 pitches in a bullpen session. Arias missed last season after shoulder surgery and had tendinitis during spring training. There's no timetable for his return. ... Houston 2B Bill Hall struck out three times. He's 2 for 19 with nine strikeouts this season. ... Reds LH Aroldis Chapman threw 23 pitches in the seventh, topping out at 104 mph — one mph shy of his best from last year. ... The teams failed to hit a homer for the second straight game. It's only the second time that's happened in Great American Ball Park's nine-year history.