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NYM@CIN: Latos shuts out the Mets over seven innings

The Reds have won eight of the 10 series they have completed since the All-Star Break, helping them soar to a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League Central.

Sunday brings an opportunity to add to that success, as the Reds host the Cubs at Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati holds a 2-1 edge in the set after Saturday's doubleheader split.

The Reds will hand the ball to the surging Mat Latos against a Cubs team that has dropped 14 of its last 18. The right-hander is 10-3 overall and owns a 1.83 ERA in his last 10 starts, dropping his season mark from 5.20 to 3.63. He has held opponents to a .180 batting average during that period.

Latos' performance has jumped to an even greater level in August. His ERA stands at 0.43 in three starts this month after he shut out the Mets over seven innings on Tuesday.

That figures to make it difficult for Cubs starter Chris Volstad to snap his 23-start winless streak, which goes back to last season. The right-hander is 0-9 with a 6.96 ERA in 12 outings this season, and has given up eight earned runs over 11 innings against the Reds.

Volstad seemed to have a golden opportunity for a 'W' on Tuesday, when he took on the basement-dwelling Astros. But he surrendered four runs in five innings in suffering the loss, forcing him to deal with the streak for at least another five days.

"Just keep going," Volstad said. "That's all you can do. The past is in the past. The only thing I'm concerned with is my next game."

Cubs: A different Soriano
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano went homerless in his first 30 games this season, but since May 15, he has clubbed 22 in his last 80 games. That gives him 11 consecutive 20-homer seasons, and 362 dingers for his career.

Since that first homer of the season, Soriano is slugging .565. The 36-year-old is only four home runs and two doubles short of his 2011 totals.

• Soriano's most recent homer, in his first at-bat of Saturday's doubleheader, lifted him to a career milestone. The two-run shot off Johnny Cueto gave Soriano 1,000 career RBIs, making him the sixth player in Major League history with at least 1,000 RBIs, 400 doubles, 350 home runs and 250 stolen bases.

• The Cubs and 22-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro appear close to a long-term contract extension, with ESPN reporting on Friday that the agreement will be for seven years and $60 million. Neither party would confirm such a deal is complete.

Reds: Bullpen back at full strength
Cincinnati leads the Majors in bullpen ERA, but had been going without two of its arms for about the past week. Before Friday, right-handers Jonathan Broxton and Sam LeCure hadn't pitched since Aug. 10, resting their sore shoulders.

Broxton returned on Friday and allowed two hits, but also struck out two against the Cubs. He had notched only one strikeout in his first five appearances after a trade from the Royals.

LeCure came back in the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader and struck out three in his one inning, although he also gave up three runs, two unearned, on three hits. LeCure had allowed one run in 12 innings since the start of July before Saturday.

Worth noting:
• The Reds lead the season series 8-4. After Sunday, the teams will play once more, Sept. 18-20, at Wrigley Field.

• Mat Latos hasn't faced the Cubs this season, but has a 3.47 ERA against them in four career games.

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