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The Tuesday Takeaway
Back on June 2, Matthew Pouliot mused on Hardball Talk about whether the Padres could already claim victory in the deal that sent Mat Latos to the Reds for Edinson Volquez, Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger this past offseason. Over the past month and a half, Latos has done his best to balance the scale.

The 24-year-old right-hander was asked last night to extend both a three-game winning streak and a 16-inning shutout stretch that began in the third inning of Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the Cubs. Latos went 2-for-2, silencing the Mets for seven frames to pave the way for Jay Bruce’s three-run, walk-off blast in the ninth.

With that quality outing, Latos continued an outstanding run that began to June 25, when he delivered the first of back-to-back complete game wins. Since then, he is 5-1 with a 1.83 ERA over 10 starts, having allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of them. A month and half ago, Latos was a dud with a 4.77 ERA; now, he’s a stud with a 3.63 ERA, including a 3.15 mark at the bandbox that is Great American Ball Park.

The 70-46 Reds have ridden Latos’ recent surge to a six-game lead in the National League Central, going 22-8 since the All-Star break to leave the once-pesky Pirates in the rearview mirror. Dusty Baker’s team is the second in the majors to reach the 70-win plateau, and it is now just one loss behind the 72-45 Nationals for the senior circuit’s number-one seed.

No wonder Joey Votto, who endured a setback in his recovery from knee surgery last week, is in no hurry to return.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • If the Rays are going to remain atop the American League wild-card standings, they will need leadoff man Desmond Jennings, whose bat has sputtered throughout the first 116 games, to catalyze the offense over the remaining 46. He has done just that of late, compiling a seven-game hitting streak during which he has gone 14-for-27 with four doubles and a home run. Jennings’ surge will be put to the test in this afternoon’s battle with Felix Hernandez, but Joe Maddon will be counting heavily on his left fielder to back Jeremy Hellickson, because B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist are a combined 6-for-50 in their past encounters with King Felix (3:40 p.m. ET).
  • Hunter Pence, the newest member of the Giants’ lineup, is also the only player on Bruce Bochy’s roster with a home run in his career versus Stephen Strasburg, who gets the ball in this afternoon’s series finale. Strasburg has earned the win in each of his past two outings, tossing 12 innings of one-run ball to defeat the Marlins and Diamondbacks, and he has recorded 99 strikeouts in 71 innings over 12 road starts. He will tangle with Tim Lincecum, who has logged a 2.72 ERA since the All-Star break and posted a respectable 3.66 mark in a dozen outings at AT&T Park (3:45 p.m. ET). 
  • Paul Maholm has been effective in both of his starts with the Braves, and he delivered a three-hit shutout against the Mets in his most recent outing on Aug. 10. The 30-year-old lefty has pared his ERA from 5.38 to 3.50 since June 29, but he is 0-4 with a 4.86 ERA in his five previous meetings with the Padres. Bud Black will counter with Edinson Volquez, who has coughed up 15 runs in just 10 innings over his last three trips and carries a 5.04 ERA in 11 starts away from Petco Park this season (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • The Angels and Indians split the first two games of their three-game set at the Big ‘A,’ but Manny Acta has a secret weapon to unleash in the rubber match: Roberto Hernandez, who will be making his 2012 debut, and his first major-league start as Roberto Hernandez. The right-hander formerly known as Fausto Carmona has been saddled with an 0-3 record in seven career tries against the Halos despite allowing just nine earned runs in 51 1/3 innings (1.58 ERA). Perhaps the new name will turn his luck in tonight’s duel with Ervin Santana (10:05 p.m. ET).