Streaking right-hander Mat Latos can remain unbeaten since April and perhaps propel the Cincinnati Reds back into first place tonight, when they open a three-game home set with the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park.
The teams enter the series - and the season's unofficial second half - in the thick of the race in the National League's Central Division, where the Reds trail the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates by a game and lead the third-place Cardinals by 1 1/2.
St. Louis won the wild card on the way to the World Series last season, while the Reds were Central champions in 2010.
Latos, acquired in the offseason in a trade for former All-Star Edinson Volquez and several others, opened the year with two losses and an 8.22 earned run average in his initial three starts but has been an ace-quality starter since.
He's won seven straight decisions since an April 18 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis, including consecutive complete-game defeats of Milwaukee and San Francisco on June 25 and 30.
In his final pre-break start, he pitched seven scoreless innings and got a touch-luck no-decision in the Reds' 2-1 loss at San Diego.
In four career meetings with St. Louis, Latos is 1-3 with a dismal 11.37 earned run average in 19 innings.
The Reds finished the first half with momentum, winning the final three games of a four-game series in San Diego, including Sunday, when Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning in a 4-2 triumph.
Brandon Phillips added three hits.
Johnny Cueto (10-5) allowed two runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five over 5 2/3 innings to earn the win.
Aroldis Chapman worked a perfect ninth to record his 11th save of the year.
St. Louis will start veteran righty Adam Wainwright, who'll try to win a second straight decision for the first time since late May.
The 30-year-old Georgia native defeated San Diego and Philadelphia in succession on May 22 and 27, but has since alternated losses and wins in six subsequent decisions.
He beat Colorado, 4-1, in his final start before the break, allowing eight hits and a run in six innings while lowering his season's ERA to 4.56.
Wainwright missed all of 2011 with an injury after winning 20 games across 33 starts in 2010.
He's 3-5 lifetime against the Reds, including a 6-3 loss in St. Louis on April 19.
On Sunday in St. Louis, Rafael Furcal hit a game-winning, bases-loaded single with two down in the bottom of the ninth inning, lifting the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory over the Marlins in the rubber match of a three-game series.
The Cardinals loaded the bases twice in the inning, with Tony Cruz delivering a sacrifice fly on the first occasion.
Daniel Descalso then worked a 10-pitch walk before Furcal singled through the left side of the infield off of Heath Bell (2-5) to push across the tying and go-ahead runs.
Mitchell Boggs (2-1) earned the win, striking out Donovan Solano with the bases loaded to end the top of the ninth.
"(The guys) are just relentless," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "They just keep fighting and coming back. It was nice to do this at home."
Furcal also had an RBI single in the fifth for St. Louis.
The Cardinals are 4-2 versus the Reds this season.