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Reds brace for red-hot Dodgers

CINCINNATI — The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t want to leave southern California after a brilliant start to their 13-game homestand, but some time on the road suddenly doesn’t look so bad after a disappointing finish.

They’re about to get plenty of it.

Fifteen of the Dodgers’ next 18 games are away from Chavez Ravine, a stretch that begins Tuesday night in Cincinnati against a Reds team hoping to salvage what’s quickly turning into a disheartening homestand.

Los Angeles (36-27) was feeling good after winning eight of its first 10 at home to take over the NL West lead, but its stay atop the division was short-lived.

The Angels turned the Freeway Series with their cross-town rivals into a one-sided affair. The Dodgers yielded 3.2 runs per game in the first 10 games of their homestand, but the Angels averaged more than twice that after completing a three-game sweep with Sunday’s 6-5 victory.

“Is it incomprehensible for us to get swept at home? No,” said outfielder Andre Ethier, whose average fell to .343 after he went 0 for 10 in the series.

“I mean, if you go out and play like that, you’re going to get swept.”

The Dodgers are 13-14 on the road, but Ethier should certainly be excited for their first stop on a nine-game road trip. The NL batting leader had five hits in 13 at-bats during Los Angeles’ stop at Great American Ball Park from April 20-22, including two homers, and he’s hitting .369 (24 for 65) in his last 17 games against Cincinnati.

The Reds (36-28) are in first place in the NL Central, but they’ve missed some chances to increase their lead on slumping St. Louis. Cincinnati began its 10-game homestand by splitting four games with San Francisco, then let Kansas City take two of three after the Royals’ 7-3 win Sunday.

Still, manager Dusty Baker’s club is in first place at its latest point in the season since June 17, 2002.

“When you’re in first place, nobody overlooks you, and everybody plays their best game,” Baker told the Reds’ official website. “You elevate everybody else, and nobody takes you for granted anymore. You’re not sneaking up on anybody. This is a big learning curve for a lot of guys — what to do in certain situations.”

Aaron Harang (5-5, 5.17 ERA) gets the ball for Cincinnati looking to win his fourth consecutive decision. The right-hander gave up two runs over seven innings Wednesday against the Giants, escaping a bases-loaded jam in his final inning to preserve a 6-3 victory.

“That’s what aces do,” Baker said. “They reach back and get some more. … Boy, he was throwing as hard at the end as he was at the beginning.”

Harang is 0-2 with a 9.28 ERA in his last two starts against Los Angeles. He allowed seven runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 14-6 loss on April 21 as Ethier took him deep.

Hiroki Kuroda (5-4, 3.30) was the victor in that game after giving up six runs — three earned — in 5 2-3 innings, and the right-hander is coming off his best outing since early May. Kuroda didn’t get a decision last Tuesday against St. Louis, but held the Cardinals to four hits over seven innings in a 1-0 win.

“This was my best game,” Kuroda told the Dodgers’ official website. “I seem to perform well under pressure.”

Kuroda is 9-2 with a 2.26 ERA in 16 career starts against NL Central opponents.