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MIN@CIN: Cueto shuts down the Twins over seven strong

The Reds sit atop the National League Central, but for that to hold true when the All-Star break arrives on July 9, the club will have to survive an arduous road trip first.

Cincinnati, which is 18-17 away from Great American Ball Park this season, leads the Central by 1 1/2 games over St. Louis, with the Cardinals slated to play the Marlins on Wednesday night. The Reds' 11-game West Coast voyage starts on Thursday night at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

The Reds will play four games against the Giants, three against the Dodgers and four against the Padres before the four-day break arrives. It's their longest trip all season.

The Reds' first hosts, the Giants, have won five of six and didn't allow a single run to the Dodgers during a three-game sweep that tied them with Los Angeles for the NL West lead. San Francisco is 24-14 at home.

The Giants' Madison Bumgarner will carry a 2.27 season ERA at AT&T Park to the mound against the Reds' Johnny Cueto.

Bumgarner (9-4, 3.10 ERA) picked up a win on Saturday against the A's, although he surrendered a season-high 11 hits and four earned runs. One potential danger sign is the 17 fly-ball outs the lefty has recorded in each of his past two starts, especially considering that the Reds have the NL's third-lowest ratio of ground balls to fly balls. That danger is mitigated somewhat by the game's location at spacious AT&T Park.

Cueto (9-3, 2.21) is 4-0 with a 1.47 ERA in four June starts and served as the Reds' stopper on Saturday against the Twins. The righty struck out a season-high nine batters in seven shutout innings, helping Cincinnati halt a four-game losing streak.

"That's what aces do," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That's what All-Stars do. That's what potential Cy Young Award winners do. They stop bad streaks and they create other good streaks. It was a great game by Johnny."

Reds: A 'game changer' is back
Cincinnati's lineup returned to full strength on Monday, when the club activated center fielder Drew Stubbs from the disabled list, and the impact has been immediate.

Stubbs, who spent about two weeks on the DL with pulled muscles in his left side, is 3-for-7 with two walks, a double, a home run and two stolen bases in his first three games.

"It's great to have him back," right fielder Jay Bruce said. "Drew is a game changer. He really is. He helps us tremendously, defensively and offensively. The baserunning, he's tough to handle out there. It seems like no matter what you do, you can't really keep him at one place. When you have that commodity, it's really great."

Stubbs has hit only .242 with a .704 OPS this season, but his 15 steals lead the Reds by 11, and his ability to cover ground in center is crucial for the team's defense.

"Being an integral part of the team, it makes you feel good about yourself and that everything you do is worthwhile," Stubbs said. "I do feel like I can bring a lot of those different facets of the game to the table, whether it's running the bases, playing the outfield or whatever. However I can contribute, that's what makes me happy."

• Last season, in his only career start in San Francisco, Cueto shut out the Giants on four hits over seven innings, striking out eight. Overall against the Giants, he is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in three starts.

Giants: Run-producing backstops
With Buster Posey spending much of last season on the disabled list, Giants catchers combined for 48 RBIs.

With Posey healthy this season and sharing the load with a productive Hector Sanchez, San Francisco catchers already have surpassed that total. In fact, they led the Majors with 55 RBIs coming into Wednesday.

Posey (35 RBIs) and Sanchez (20) have teamed up behind the plate to hit .286 with 11 home runs.

• Bumgarner has allowed exactly four earned runs in six of his 15 starts but has yet to give up more than four in any outing.

He is 0-2 with an 8.56 ERA in three career starts against the Reds but held them to one run in seven innings last season in San Francisco.

Worth noting
• Baker, who skippered the Giants from 1993-2002, is 14-12 as a visitor at AT&T Park, during stints with the Cubs and Reds.

• Giants infielder Ryan Theriot, who spent much of his career in the NL Central, has far more experience against Cueto than any of his teammates. He is 13-for-40 (.325) against him in 45 plate appearances, with an .836 OPS.

• The Reds took two of three games from the Giants in Cincinnati back in April. The teams split four in San Francisco last season. Comments