The first-place team in the National League Central meets the last-place club in the American League's version tonight, as the Cincinnati Reds host the Minnesota Twins in the opener of a three-game interleague set at Great American Ball Park.
The Reds come in on the heels of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, which trimmed their edge in the NL Central to just two games over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In Wednesday's 8-1 loss, starter Bronson Arroyo (3-5) struggled from the outset, tossing 90 pitches in four mediocre innings while allowing five runs and eight hits.
The Reds never stood a chance offensively, putting only two baserunners on in the first four innings. Chris Heisey was the runner both times, but was part of a double play in the first and got caught stealing in the fourth.
Cincinnati entered the series with the Indians having won six straight games, including three in a row against Cleveland earlier this month.
Starting for the Reds is Texas-born right-hander Homer Bailey, a winner in four of his last five decisions after starting the season at 1-3.
Bailey got the run of success going with a 6-5 defeat of the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on May 19, and has since beaten Atlanta, Pittsburgh and the New York Mets while losing just once - to the Pirates - on June 5.
The defeat of the Mets came in his last start on June 16 in New York, where he pitched eight strong innings and gave up a single run on six hits in a 4-1 triumph.
The 26-year-old has completed two games in 91 big-league starts and has never faced the Twins.
Minnesota, which sits nine games in back of the Indians in the AL Central, last played on Thursday and dropped a 9-1 decision to the Pirates in the finale of a three-game series in Pittsburgh.
Ryan Doumit drove in the lone run for the Twins, who have lost six of eight.
Liam Hendriks (0-4) made his 10th career start and remained winless as he was tagged for six runs - three earned - on eight hits with three strikeouts in five-plus innings of work.
Righty Nate Blackburn faces the Reds for the first time in his 137th big- league appearance while trying to continue a modest win streak.
The 30-year-old Oklahoma native began the season with four losses in five starts, but has since gone 3-0 in his next five in spite of an earned run average still at a bloated 7.48 over 49 1/3 innings.
He got to 3-4 on the season with an 11-7 defeat of Philadelphia on June 12, escaping in spite of being touched for four runs on eight hits in five innings.
He gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings one start later against Milwaukee and got a no-decision in the Twins' 5-4 victory.
Minnesota, which was 0-5 in his first five starts, is 5-0 in the last five.
Blackburn is 1-2 in four road starts this season.
The Twins have won eight of 15 interleague games with the Reds since 1997, including a three-game sweep when they last meet in 2001 in Minnesota, getting wins from Eddie Guardado, Bob Wells and Brad Radke.