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LAD@CIN: Latos dominates Dodgers over eight strong

With a week of games remaining on the schedule, the objectives are very different for National League Central rivals Milwaukee and Cincinnati, who meet for the final time on Thursday.

The Brewers are simply trying to hang on for dear life, with every game essentially a must-win. They're in full-out survival mode, trailing St. Louis by 3 1/2 games in the National League Wild Card race, with seven to go.

The Reds, meanwhile, are prepping themselves for the playoffs with one important goal left: earn the top seed in the NL. Doing so would assure them of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round matchup against a team coming off a potentially taxing Wild Card game.

Trailing Washington by a game for that top seed, the Reds have been playing the last week without manager Dusty Baker, who remains in recovery from a minor stroke. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been involved in the team's day-to-day strategies.

"We're kind of working together a little bit with it," bench coach and acting manager Chris Speier said of creating the lineup before Wednesday's 8-1 loss to Milwaukee. "I wasn't sure what his plans were, so I had a lineup. I brought it in to him, and we kind of tweaked it a little bit. He's very active in that, believe me. I respect that, too. I wasn't about to hand a lineup over without checking with him first."

Mat Latos gets the ball for Cincinnati in the Reds' final home game of the regular season, looking to build on one of his best starts of the year. Latos (13-4, 3.60 ERA) started on Saturday when the Reds clinched the division against the Dodgers, tossing eight scoreless frames in which he allowed just six singles and no runners into scoring position.

"I thought it was the best I've looked all year," Latos said after the start. "I'm still an ugly cat, but I still thought I pitched great. I feel good, and I'm excited. I'm ready for the playoffs."

But before he gets to the playoffs, he'll have to deal with Milwaukee, which sends rookie right-hander Wily Peralta (2-1, 3.04 ERA) to the hill.

The hard-throwing Peralta is coming off the worst outing of his short career (four starts), in which he lasted just 2 2/3 innings against Washington. He struggled to locate his fastball, causing him to allow three runs on five hits and running his pitch count to 73 before the third inning ended.

Manager Ron Roenicke noted a steep Washington mound as a possible reason for Peralta's struggles, but Peralta was adamant that "that [was] not the thing. The thing is I wasn't locating my pitches."

Brewers: Ramirez sparks lineup
Despite the loss of Prince Fielder to Detroit, the Brewers' offense has been one of the best in baseball this season, and a big reason why is Aramis Ramirez (.298 average, 26 homers, 100 RBIs).

"I thought we would be good when we picked up [Ramirez]," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "He's right up there with the best power hitters in this league. After playing against him for two years already, I knew how good a hitter he was, and with everyone else coming back with the exception of Prince, I had a feeling we would be pretty good."

Without Fielder, the Brewers have scored more runs and hit more home runs this season than last, though they remain on the outside of the playoffs looking in, unlike in 2011.

Reds: Playoff roster in the works
General manager Walt Jocketty has already started his planning for Cincinnati's 25-man roster in the first round of the playoffs.

"It will be tough. It's also nice because we have some depth this year," Jocketty said. "But it will be tough, especially with the pitching when we get down to the end. We've talked about it, and we'll talk about it some more. We'll make our final decision next week when we know who we're playing."

Obviously the opponent could dictate which players are ultimately selected to play in the Division Series. The Reds would likely play either the Giants or the winner of the Wild Card game.

Worth noting
• Milwaukee left fielder Ryan Braun is hitless in 11 at-bats against Latos, and he has struck out five times. First baseman Corey Hart has also struggled, going 1-for-12 with four K's.

• Thursday marks the final game of the season between these two squads, with the Reds leading the season series, 8-6. The Brewers haven't won a season series against Cincinnati since 2006, when they took 10 of 19.

• The Reds haven't finished the season with the best record in baseball in a non-strike year since their World Series title in 1976.

• The Brewers need a win Thursday to extend their streak of six straight road series without a series loss.

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