No place like home for Jaime Garcia

The NL Central race couldn't be much tighter with four teams separated by only three games heading into Tuesday, when the Cincinnati Reds visit the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals.

Jaime Garcia is on the hill for the Cardinals, which could not be much worse news for the Reds. Garcia has been lights out at home this season, going 4-1 with an 0.88 ERA in seven starts.

We're just halfway through the season, but it's worth noting that no pitcher has finished with a sub-1.00 ERA at home for an entire season since Sandy Koufax (0.85) in the 1964 campaign.

Opponents are batting only .173 against Garcia at Busch Stadium while compiling a paltry .218 slugging percentage. On the road those numbers balloon up to a .326 batting average and a .470 slugging percentage.

Jaime Garcia Right at Home
At-bats Ending In Fastball

Garcia's key to success at home has been his fastball. Opponents are batting .225 in at-bats ending in a fastball when Garcia pitches in St. Louis and hitting .419 elsewhere. At home he has not allowed a single home run in 71 at-bats ending in fastballs, but has given up four long balls in 86 such at-bats on the road.

The lefty faces one of his toughest tests this season in a Reds lineup that has killed left-handed pitching.

Cincinnati ranks first in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging against southpaws.

Last year's NL MVP, Joey Votto is among the Reds players to tear apart lefties this season, compiling a .372 batting average and .616 slugging percentage, second on the team in both categories behind Jonny Gomes.

It will be interesting to see how Garcia attacks Votto, who has been devastating against fastballs versus left-handed pitchers. He's hitting .512 in at-bats ending with that pitch, second highest in the majors among players with a minimum of 50 such plate appearances.

Most HR in 1st 4 Seasons
Reds History

Reds slugger Jay Bruce was 12-for-24, with four home runs against lefties in May, but faltered in June. He was just 5-for-34 (.147) and did not homer.

Bruce is just one home run shy of matching Johnny Bench (87) for the fourth most all-time by a Reds player in his first four MLB seasons. With 14 more home runs he would join Frank Robinson (134) and Adam Dunn (118) as the only Reds players with 100 home runs in their first four MLB seasons.

News came out on Monday that the Cardinals may enjoy the return of their MVP Albert Pujols ahead of schedule. Along with Lance Berkman that would give the Cardinals a duo that has tormented the Reds. Pujols has more hits (219) and runs scored (142) against the Reds than any active player.

Berkman has more hits (175), home runs (50), RBIs (139) and runs scored (127) against Cincinnati than any other team he has faced. Berkman ranks in the top three among all active players versus the Reds in each of those categories.

He has also fared well against Reds starter Edinson Volquez, reaching base eight times in 13 plate appearances, reaching on a walk five times.