The Reds' chances of gaining ground on the Brewers in Monday's game seem promising as the team will send righty Mat Latos to the mound looking for another shutdown performance against Milwaukee.
This will be Latos' third start against the Brewers this season. He faced them in his first start of the season after returning from injury on June 14, throwing six shutout innings and allowing two hits. More recently, he held the team to two runs and four hits over eight innings on July 6 in Cincinnati.
Latos left his most recent start against the Pirates after five innings because of lower back spasms, but Reds manager Bryan Price said Friday that he is good to go in his first start of the second half and is doing everything pain-free.
The Reds have accumulated a 7-3 record against the Brewers this season and currently are 2 1/2 games behind them in the division. Maintaining that dominance would help them push their way towards first place in a division where the top four teams are separated by fewer than four games.
The Brewers are still trying to gain a foothold after losing 11 of 13 heading into the All-Star break and dropping two of three to Washington this weekend. They'll look to righty Wily Peralta to start the series.
After getting knocked around by Philadelphia in his start on July 8, Peralta righted himself on July 13 to salvage a win over St. Louis in the first-half finale with seven scoreless innings. Though he has a 3.72 ERA on the year, he has a 6.75 ERA over three July starts.
Peralta held the Reds to three hits over eight innings in his only start against them this season on May 2. The righty understands the importance of getting this series against Cincinnati off to a good start.
"It's really important, man," Peralta said. "They've given us a hard time. I think the next month is going to be important for us because we go to St. Louis at the beginning of next month. We really have to play hard. The second half is really tough. We're going to be playing a lot in our division, and everyone is really tough. We have to get it together."
Not surprisingly, Peralta believes the Brewers are up to the challenge.
"This team is ready," he said. "We have to get it together like we had early [in the season], but I think this team is really balanced. Just get it together as a team and we're going to be fine."
Reds: Price worried Bruce putting too much pressure on himself
With Jay Bruce experiencing a subpar season, Reds manager Bryan Price said Sunday that he worries the veteran outfielder might be putting too much pressure on himself.
Bruce is batting .221 following Sunday's 0-for-4 performance and he added to his woes by striking out three times on Saturday against the Yankees. He's 0-for-11 over his last three games. With the Reds missing mainstays Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, Price said he wants Bruce to relax and not overthink his role.
"I know how this game is. It's such a mental challenge on a daily basis. He had that really nice run when we went on the road and did some nice things before we came home and went on the break," Price said. "I'm sure he's trying to do everything he can with Joey and Brandon out to provide us with that middle of the order presence.
"What I really want him to do is relax and be himself and not try to be more than who he is. I'm sure he is trying to do everything he can to help us and might be putting a little too much pressure on himself to be overly productive in the absence of those two guys."
Brewers: Estrada's quick prep helps spare Crew's bullpen
Given Matt Garza's short outing on Saturday -- the righty gave up five runs while recording only one out -- the Brewers' bullpen could easily be in a state of disarray heading into this series. But Marco Estrada, who was recently moved from the rotation to the bullpen, rescued the team with 5 2/3 innings of long relief.
Estrada threw only six pitches before being put in the game, in contrast to the 40 pitches he would normally throw before a start.
The morning after, how did he feel?
"Tired," Estrada said with a sigh. "I'm sore. Normal stuff that would normally happen after a day you would start. It was different because it's been a while since I started -- a week and a half I think. I threw six pitches in the 'pen, and then I saw Ron [Roenicke, the manager] running out there."
He said it took him about an inning and a half Saturday to finally feel loose. That Estrada got the Brewers through the sixth inning meant Roenicke had a reasonably rested bullpen for Sunday's series finale, including left-hander Will Smith available after missing two games with a stiff back.
• The Reds have not been closer than 1 1/2 games behind in the NL Central since the third game in the season.
• The Reds have won five of their last eight series against teams in first place at that time, including each of the last four series, and are 15-11 overall in those games.
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.