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CLE@CIN: Latos strikes out seven over seven strong

The last two National League Central champions will meet for the second time this season and the first at Great American Ball Park when they open a three-game set on Monday night.

Thus far in 2012, it's the Reds who have positioned themselves to make it two titles in three years. Even after losing for the fifth time in six games on Sunday, when Aroldis Chapman couldn't nail down a ninth-inning lead against the Twins, Cincinnati still leads the division by one game over the Pirates and 6 1/2 over the fourth-place Brewers.

The Reds' big offseason acquisition, Mat Latos (5-2, 5.20 ERA), will try to get on track as he takes on Yovani Gallardo (6-5, 4.22). The Brewers will be looking to return the favor for the Reds taking two of three at Miller Park in May.

In fact, much of the season has been a struggle for the Brewers, a year after they won 96 games, 17 better than the Reds. Milwaukee is 15-21 on the road, under .500 in each month and 5-7 in its last 12 games.

"We're not playing good enough ball that we should be getting most of the breaks. We're not," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "But it seems like we're just not getting any breaks. That's the difference between what makes us go and what makes us struggle."

Roenicke didn't lay all of the blame on a pitching staff that ranked 22nd in the Majors with a 4.24 ERA before holding the White Sox to one run in 10 innings on Sunday.

"It's not just the pitching," he said. "We'll get into a game where the pitching's really good and we have plenty of opportunities to score runs and we don't score runs. Everything is a little bit off. We'll be good for a couple games, but then all of a sudden we lose it and can't stay consistent with it."

Things have gone much smoother for the Reds, especially since a 19-19 start, but the club also will be tested before it can take a division lead into the All-Star break.

Cincinnati closes the first half by playing 17 games in 17 days. That stretch started with the weekend's series against Minnesota, which saw the Reds lose two of three.

"We're going to need everybody," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "This is 17 in a row dragging into the break. That's why they give you a break. They didn't give you a break because you feel strong. We've got to push, push, push and keep on pushing through the break."

Brewers: Bullpen problems abound
• Randy Wolf left Saturday's game against the White Sox with the lead before eventually falling victim to a blown save for the fourth start in a row. That's only one sign of a bullpen that has been a major issue for the Brewers this season.

"It's been a rough year for them," Roenicke said. "We like the personnel that's down there. They're not throwing the way that they should be throwing the ball."

Entering Sunday, Brewers relievers ranked 28th in the Majors with a 4.56 ERA and 30th with 17 losses and a 1.57 WHIP, while blowing 11 of 26 save opportunities. Of the team's eight most-used pitchers out of the bullpen, only Kameron Loe had an ERA lower than 3.90.

"You're not going to have seven guys in the bullpen that are lights-out. Nobody has that in their bullpens," said Roenicke, whose relievers ranked sixth in the Majors with a 3.32 ERA last season. "But that was something we had counted on last year when we had the winning formula. It was because that bullpen was so good. Every time we brought them in, they'd throw up zeros. They would keep that lead, or they would give us a chance to get back into it, and we're not doing that."

• Gallardo owns a 3.43 ERA and nine quality starts over his past 10 outings. He held the Blue Jays to three runs in 6 2/3 innings on Wednesday.

Reds: Picking up the slack
• The Reds managed to score 36 runs over their previous eight games before Sunday, despite first baseman Joey Votto driving in only one of them.

"That's why it's called a team," Baker said. "It's not just one guy. He's a big part of this team, but not everybody can do it every day. He does it almost every day."

Votto still hit .345 with a 1.024 OPS during those eight games and smacked a two-run homer on Sunday.

• Latos has posted a 6.75 ERA over his last five starts, giving up 34 hits and 10 home runs in 28 innings. His 16 home runs allowed this season are the third-most in the NL and as many as he surrendered in 2010 and 2011.

Latos implied the Indians engaged in sign-stealing after they tagged him for seven runs in four innings last Monday.

Worth noting
• This series is the Reds' last at home until the All-Star break.

• Latos' ERA is 3.91 at home, compared with 7.45 on the road. He is 0-2 with a 4.63 ERA in two career starts against the Brewers.

• Gallardo is 2-1 with a 3.59 ERA in six career starts at Great American Ball Park, but current Reds have battered him for a .967 OPS in 164 plate appearances.

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