With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Reds' focus remains on winning the tightly contested National League Central. But after struggling in consecutive series against the bottom two teams in the division, Cincinnati also has company in the race for the second Wild Card spot.
After the Reds beat the Astros to open this week's series and the Nationals' game was postponed because of Monday morning's shootings blocks away from Nationals Park, Washington sits just five games behind Cincinnati for the last spot in the postseason.
Tuesday, the Reds will look to distance themselves by taking Game 2 against the Astros, but that's not the motivation they'll carry with them into Minute Maid Park.
"You don't look backwards," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I know [the Nationals are] there. I see the stat sheets and listen to MLB and ESPN. But you can't look behind you. You have to look ahead."
Entering Tuesday, Cincinnati trailed Pittsburgh and St. Louis by 2 1/2 games in the NL Central. After losing ground by dropping four of six against the Cubs and Brewers, the Reds kept pace with division's top two teams thanks to Monday's 6-1 win, which marked their first meeting against the Astros since Houston moved to the American League West.
With the Astros' first season in the AL almost in the books, manager Bo Porter said he doesn't make much out of facing former division rivals.
"I think the newness wore off kind of quickly," Porter said. "It's not something you even think about, with them coming in here and they're going to have the DH and we're not playing National League rules. It's an adjustment."
Baker, though, put a lot of thought into this week's series, as his team is in search of every win possible.
"I have a lot of work to do on these Astros," Baker said. "We haven't seen them. We don't know them. They have a whole different team than they had before. September is a lot of work, but against these guys, we haven't been here since last September. I've been coming here for 43 years. This is weird for me."
Reds: Marshall returns from DL
Reds reliever Sean Marshall didn't pitch in Monday's win over the Astros, but for the first time since last May, he was on the active roster.
Along with starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, who threw five scoreless innings Monday, Marshall came off the 60-day disabled list after recovering from a sprained left shoulder and tendinitis in the same shoulder.
"It's been a long time," Marshall said. "I'm very excited and I feel good. I look forward to getting into some games here and helping us win some games."
Although Marshall said he's ready to go, Baker said he's the third left-handed option out of the bullpen with Manny Parra and Zach Duke both performing well. Still, with 11 games to play, Marshall hopes for a chance to prove he belongs on the postseason roster.
"I've been out since the end of May. Hopefully I won't be rusty when I get out there," Marshall said. "If I am, I will work my butt off to shake it off. We've had some guys pitch extremely well, guys that have stepped up big -- not only left-handers, but our right-handers like Sammy [LeCure] and [Alfredo] Simon have done a great job filling some voids."
• Reds starter Mike Leake will look for his third consecutive win on Tuesday against the Astros. After allowing two runs on five hits in 7 2/3 against the Dodgers, Leake went just 5 2/3 innings against the Cubs on Wednesday. He didn't allow a run, though, while giving up four hits and four walks.
Tuesday marks Leake's 10th career start against the Astros. He's also made two appearances out of the bullpen, going 5-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 11 total outings versus Houston.
Astros: Lyles seeks fourth straight quality start
Whether it's been as a starter or out of the bullpen, Astros pitcher Jordan Lyles has given his team a good chance to win in the last month.
Lyles has made seven appearances since Aug. 13, five of which were starts. In those games, the Astros went 6-1 with Lyles posting a 3.57 ERA in 35 1/3 total innings.
The 22-year-old right-hander has made three straight quality starts since he last came out of the bullpen on Aug. 26, and he hopes to carry that momentum into Tuesday's game against the Reds. In four career appearances against Cincinnati, including three starts, Lyles is 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA.
• Entering Tuesday with a 51-99 record, the Astros face their third straight 100-loss season.
"That never came across our mind in Spring Training or even when you start scuffling," center fielder Brandon Barnes said. "You just go out and battle every day. Whether we win or lose, we're out there playing hard."
• The Reds will look for their 16th series win over the Astros in the last 18 tries on Tuesday.
• Reds first baseman Joey Votto extended his hitting streak at Minute Maid Park to 22 games on Monday. He's batting .430 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 34 games at Houston's home stadium.
• The Astros have scored two runs or fewer in each of their last four losses.
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.