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PIT@CIN: Bailey holds Bucs to one run over seven

The Reds haven't exactly played their best baseball as of late, yet they still have a double-digit lead in the National League Central as they prepare to open a three-game set with the Cubs on Tuesday.

In fact, Cincinnati is also still very much in the mix for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The Reds trail the Nationals by just 1 1/2 games for the NL's best record heading into Tuesday.

The Reds will look to cut into that lead against the Cubs this week, while the Nats square off with the playoff-hopeful Dodgers.

The Reds will need to keep the bats going, as their inconsistent offense has led to a 5-5 record over their last 10 games. They have scored 21 runs in their five wins during that span, but just 10 in their five losses.

"We're not swinging the bats as good as we like," said catcher Ryan Hanigan. "The offense has been a little slack. For whatever reason, we're getting our hits, but we're not coming up with the big hits when we need them. We've got to keep at it and hope we can change that."

In Tuesday's opener, it'll be right-hander Homer Bailey who hopes to be the recipient of some added run support as he squares off against Cubs starter Justin Germano. In his last start against the Pirates, Bailey allowed one run in seven innings, and has allowed two runs or fewer in his past three starts.

As for Germano, he's coming off his best start as a Cub, but will still be looking for his first victory since Aug. 15. He's lost each of his last five starts, though he allowed just one unearned run on three hits over five innings in his outing last Tuesday. He had allowed at least five earned runs in each of his last four outings.

"My last four [had] definitely not been that good, so I was just happy to end the road trip on a good outing," Germano said, "and hopefully carry that into my next one."

The Reds' magic number is down to five, and the club can clinch a playoff spot and the division by the end of the series -- something Cubs manager Dale Sveum doesn't want to be victim of just yet.

"Nobody wants anybody to clinch on your turf, that's for sure," Sveum said. "It's inevitable that they'll clinch, you just don't want them to do it in your place."

Reds: Cozart working his way back
• Shortstop Zack Cozart successfully took batting practice on consecutive days this past weekend, but there's still no set timetable for his return.

Out since Sept. 3 with a left oblique strain, Cozart took batting practice on both Saturday and Sunday, but manager Dusty Baker said he remains in wait-and-see mode with his shortstop.

"He looked pretty good," Baker said on Sunday. "He didn't look like he was babying or guarding anything. But he didn't really have to exert maximum effort. The ball wasn't running in on him, or [he wasn't] reaching for a breaking ball. Batting practice is pretty simple. We'll see.

"Whatever his body tells him," Baker said. "He's progressing. I can't give you a definitive answer. He's a big part of our offense and our defense."

Cubs: Sveum hoping for improved defense from Vitters
• Josh Vitters hasn't hit the ball as well as he would've liked since his August promotion, but it's his defense that manager Dale Sveum would like to see improve.

Vitters, hitting just .110 with two home runs and five RBIs, has been conceding a few starts at third base to Luis Valbuena lately.

"It's the routine plays that seem to be giving [Vitters] the most problems," Sveum said Sunday. "The spontaneous plays, he's made all those, and in great fashion. He's gotten up and made good throws on the dives and body-control plays. He's gotten a lot better since the first day I saw him."

Worth noting
• The Reds are 9-4 against the Cubs this season and have either won or split each of the four series. Comments