Right-hander Mat Latos aims for a fourth straight win for both himself and his team tonight when the Cincinnati Reds host the New York Mets in the opener of a three-game series at Great American Ball Park.
Cincinnati defeated the Chicago Cubs, 3-0, on Sunday to finish off a four-game series in which it had lost the opener on the heels of four straight previous losses to Pittsburgh (one) and Milwaukee (three).
The team's lead in the National League's Central Division race actually grew to five games on Monday, when the second-place Pirates lost to Los Angeles and the Reds were idle.
Latos, in his first year with Cincinnati after an offseason trade with San Diego, started the season with two losses and a bloated earned run average in his initial three starts but has since gone 10-1 and trimmed the ERA to a respectable 3.81.
He defeated Pittsburgh with 7 1/3 innings of scoreless ball for his last win on Aug. 3, then got a tough-luck no-decision on Aug. 8 after going seven innings and allowing a run on three hits in Cincinnati's 3-2 loss at Milwaukee.
The lone loss since April came July 18 against Arizona, when he was chased after 4 2/3 innings in a game the Reds lost, 7-1.
In four career meetings with the Mets, Latos is 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA.
He's opposed by veteran righty Chris Young, who makes his 12th start of the season and 152nd of his career since he was drafted by the Pirates in 2000.
The Dallas native debuted in the majors with the Texas Rangers in 2004, won 12 games for them in 2005 and 11 for San Diego the following season.
He's had less significant roles in the majors since and appeared in just four games with the Mets last season while going 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA.
Young's last win of 2012 came Aug. 2 at San Francisco, when he allowed a run on four hits in seven innings of a 9-1 triumph. In one start since, he was tagged for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings of a 13-0 debacle against Miami.
In three career meetings with the Reds, Young is 0-1.
On Sunday in New York, Jonathon Niese stifled Atlanta over eight strong innings as the Mets salvaged the finale of a three-game set with a 6-5 victory at Citi Field.
Niese (9-6) allowed just one run on six hits and two walks with six strikeouts and improved to 2-0 against Atlanta this season.
David Wright clubbed a pair of doubles, knocked in a run and also scored twice on a pair of RBI singles from Ike Davis as the Mets snapped a seven-game skid against the Braves.
"I'm not making any excuses, we have not played well on any side of the ball," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "This win helped, I don't care how it came about, I'm glad to get it."
In Chicago, Johnny Cueto tossed eight scoreless innings and the Reds blanked the Cubs, 3-0, in the finale of a four-game series at Wrigley Field.
Cueto (15-6) held Chicago to three hits and two walks while striking out three, lowering his earned-run average to 2.45 in the process. Aroldis Chapman worked around a leadoff single in the ninth inning to finish off his second save in as many days and 28th of the season.
Jay Bruce ripped a two-run home run and Ryan Ludwick smoked a solo shot for the Reds.
"Any time you can put runs on the board for Johnny, you know the other team definitely has an uphill battle," Bruce said. "He's pitched great for us."
The Reds won four of the first five games between the teams in 2012, including three straight in a series at Citi Field in June. The teams split a two-game set in New York in May.
The Mets won the 2011 season series, 5-2.