CINCINNATI -- Over the next couple of weeks, the Reds will have ample chances to help send a National League Central contender to a golf course, beach resort, hunting cabin or simply the living room sofa. Just anywhere but the postseason. An 11-4 Reds rout over the Brewers on Friday night helped turn the screws a little more in a race that's too tight to call.
"Right now, playing these clubs that are neck and neck, it's really dog-eat-dog to win the division," said Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, who pitched a smooth 7 2/3 innings for the victory. "It's nice to come every day and feel like there's some kind of a spark to get us fired up." A miserable first half all but assured there would be no October baseball for Cincinnati. But entering Friday, 15 of the Reds' final 22 games -- including the next 12 -- were against the Brewers, Cardinals and Cubs. Milwaukee and Chicago came in tied for first and St. Louis was one game out. The Cubs also lost their game vs. the Pirates. "It is nice to play the contenders, and we'll play them just like we'd play any other game," interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "When you're a professional athlete, you have to have a certain pride in what you're doing. These guys are playing for money. They want to produce so they can make money. There's no let up." That was apparent when the Reds jumped out to a 10-0 lead after three innings. On his way to tying a career high with four hits, Josh Hamilton led off the bottom of the first against Dave Bush (11-10) with a double off the wall in left-center field. Hamilton scored on Ken Griffey Jr.'s RBI single into right field. Adam Dunn later hit an RBI single into left field and Edwin Encarnacion drove in two with a bases-loaded single to left field. Rookie Joey Votto's double through the gap in right-center field scored two more runs for a 6-0 lead. "You like to play teams like that who are fighting for first place," said Encarnacion, who is 8-for-15 (.533) with 18 RBIs this season when the bases are loaded. "We try to win the game, no matter what team." Alex Gonzalez, who was 3-for-5, led off the Reds' second with a double. Next was Griffey, who hit a 2-2 pitch into the right-field seats for an eight-run advantage and ended Bush's night after just one-plus innings. It was Griffey's 30th homer of the season and No. 593 for his career. Hamilton hit a two-out RBI single to center field in the third and scored on Gonzalez's second RBI double for a 10-0 lead. "It's always nice to get ahead like that, especially when you have one of your best starters on the mound," Mackanin said. "We added on, and that was huge. We didn't score six and shut it down. We continued to score runs and got into their bullpen." You couldn't blame Arroyo if he had greedily shouted for more runs from the dugout. In 13 of his 30 starts this season, the Reds have scored two runs or less and were shutout twice. "There's definitely been a little bit of a drought," Arroyo said. "I'll take four more of these before the end of the season." Arroyo (8-14) allowed three earned runs and five hits with one walk and eight strikeouts. He retired 11 of his first 12 batters and didn't surrender a run until Prince Fielder led off the Brewers' fifth with a solo homer. "Six in the first was beautiful, man," Arroyo said. "It hasn't happened often this year. It allows you to go out there and kind of pitch to a little bit fatter part of the plate. You maybe pitch guys a certain way you wouldn't normally pitch them." Arroyo gave up Mike Rivera's two-out solo homer in the eighth and walked Rickie Weeks with his 114th pitch before coming out. The Brewers (71-69), who were coming off a 5-1 homestand, have been an NL Central-worst 23-35 since July 3. That was the day Mackanin had taken over Cincinnati, which has been a division-best 33-26. Too late to win the division for the Reds? Yes. Mailing it in over the final stretch of games? No. "Playing teams in our division, especially as tight as it is, is making it where there's at least something to shoot for with us," Arroyo said. "Regardless of being [7 1/2 games] back, obviously the division is not sewn up by anybody."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.