Cueto aims for 16th win in finale with Cardinals

( - Well, Cincinnati Reds fans, at least there's Johnny Cueto.

While the rest of the team has had a hand in the drastic plummet from National League playoff contention since the All-Star break, Cueto can continue a Cy Young-caliber season on Wednesday night when the Reds visit Busch Stadium to close out a three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cincinnati has lost four games in a row, but a win by Cueto would make him the first pitcher in the major leagues to reach 16 victories. In fact, both of the Reds' wins in their last 11 games have come with Cueto on the mound, and he's won five straight starts overall.

He's allowed seven runs and struck out 39 batters in those five starts, while lowering his season earned run average to 2.06 -- third-lowest in the majors. He's pitched eight innings in two straight starts and tossed a complete game against Cleveland three starts ago, on Aug. 5.

"It's very comfortable being able to put your stock into one guy," Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said. "You go all in with Johnny and you don't fear losing the game late."

In his most recent outing on Friday against Colorado, he struck out six batters and earned some love from the opposition along the way.

"He's one of the best in the league. He's an animal," Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado said.

In his last two starts against St. Louis, Cueto is 0-1 while pitching 14 innings and getting one run of support. He allowed three hits and struck out eight in a 1-0 loss to the Cardinals to open the 2014 season.

Cincinnati has lost seven straight series in St. Louis, but haven't been swept there since 2008. The Reds have held a lead in each of their last four games, including a 4-1 edge that became a 5-4 loss on Tuesday.

The winning run scored when Jon Jay was hit by a pitch.

"It's not like you hope to get hit by a pitch every time," Jay said. "But I'll take it."

The Cardinals go with Lance Lynn, who's been outstanding in eight starts since a 9-1 shellacking against the Los Angeles Dodgers in late June.

He lasted just two innings in the debacle in Los Angeles, but is 5-2 since with an ERA below 2.00. In his last start, on Friday, he gave up a run in six innings of a 4-2 defeat of San Diego.

He's 2-0 against the Reds in 2014, with a bloated 6.55 ERA. He was 2-0 against them at home last season, but did allow five runs in six innings of a game in April.

On Tuesday, Jay went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and the winning RBI while Jhonny Peralta added a solo homer for St. Louis, which has won six of its last seven games, including a 10-inning victory in the opener.

Todd Frazier hit a two-run homer while Ryan Ludwick added two hits and two RBI for Cincinnati, which has dropped four in a row and seven of eight overall.