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Rubber meets the road in Cincinnati

7/24/2011

The Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds play the rubber game of their three-game series at Great American Ballpark at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.

Last night, the Reds pulled away late, scoring seven runs in the seventh inning en route to a 11-2 win. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that the victory marked the first time they beat the Braves by at least nine runs since routing Atlanta by a score of 13-1 on July 28, 1998, at Cinergy Field. The two teams met 93 times since then, prior to Saturday.

Following their win Saturday, the Reds will be trying to win consecutive games for the first time since a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 13-15.

With the loss, the Braves currently trail the Philadelphia Phillies in the standings by five games, the farthest they've been behind since June 26. After going 17-9 in June, they are just 12-7 in July and 5-4 since the break.

On the mound

Brandon Beachy takes the mound for the Braves, making his first start versus the Reds and just his 17th career start in the majors. Beachy struggled in his last outing, allowing a career-high six runs against the Rockies on July 19.

Beachy has been more effective against righties this year, limiting them to a .221 batting average and .651 OPS, compared to a .280 batting average and .836 OPS against lefties.

The slider has been his primary out pitch versus righties, and it's been a good one, as right-handed batters are just 7-for-44 (.159) with 19 strikeouts in at-bats ending in the pitch.

Against lefties, he’ll mostly use two offspeed pitches – a changeup and a curveball – but he hasn’t had much success with either. Left-handed batters are hitting over .300 (13-for-43) in at-bats ending in those two pitches.

Dontrelle Willis is making his third start this season for the Reds. The team has lost both of his previous starts, scoring just three runs combined in those games, while Willis has allowed four runs in 10.2 innings.

The key stat to watch for Willis is his walks and strikeouts. Though it’s early, his 9-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is encouraging, considering that he hasn’t finished a season with more strikeouts than walks since 2007.

Though his rate of four walks per nine innings is still below the league average, it is less than half of what he produced in his previous three seasons, when he was walking nearly a batter per inning pitched.

Who's hot, who's not

Highest OPS, Active Players
At Great American Ballpark

Though Brian McCann was hitless in four at-bats Saturday, he's had a history of success against the Reds. McCann is hitting .340 and slugging .681 against them in his career, including 13-for-32 (.406) over the past two seasons.

Jason Heyward has struggled against lefty pitching this year, with a .167 batting average. After getting six hits in his first 19 at-bats (.316) versus southpaws, he’s hitting just .119 (7-for-59) against them since late April.

Sunday night slump

The Reds will try to snap a dubious streak when they take the field tonight, having lost their last seven games on Sunday Night Baseball. Their last win in the Sunday spotlight came on Aug. 13, 2000, a 3-0 win at the Cubs.

-- Katie Sharp and Mark Malzewski contributed