CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Bronson Arroyo wonders what would happen if he ever put two good halves together in one season.
The veteran right-hander extended his personal winning streak to five games, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips hit solo home runs and the first-place Cincinnati Reds bounced back from a frustrating loss with a 5-1 win over the last-place Houston Astros on Saturday night.
Phillips and Joey Votto both had two hits to help Arroyo improve to 8-1 over his last nine starts and 9-2 since July 6. He's used to clicking in after the All-Star break.
"August and September have always been pretty good for me," Arroyo said. "I'm a guy who needs regular work. Too many days off leave me tired. If I ever got off to a good start, I might end up having a great season. I always seem to be running uphill in the second half."
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker has grown used to seeing Arroyo finish with a flurry of wins.
"That's Bronson," he said. "I was telling someone earlier that Bronson's due for seven in a row. It's nice to see him throwing like that. He gave us what he had tonight."
Arroyo (12-7) had at least one baserunner in every inning except the seventh -- his last -- but allowed just a first-inning run. The Astros had seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts.
Interim Houston manager Tony DeFrancesco was frustrated that the Astros couldn't capitalize on their chances.
"We had the right guys up," he said. "A big hit here or there and we would have had a chance."
Sean Marshall allowed a walk in the eighth and Jonathan Broxton gave up two hits while finishing the game in the ninth.
Cincinnati's win and St. Louis's 6-3 loss to Milwaukee gave the Reds a 9 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central. The Reds' magic number for clinching their second division title in three years dropped to 14.
Houston starter Bud Norris (5-12) saw his career-high losing streak stretch to 11 games, dating to May 31. The right-hander allowed six hits and five runs with two walks and three strikeouts in 5 1-3 innings while dealing with a blister on the index finger of his right hand.
"My finger bothered me a little bit," Norris said. "I'm trying to leave it all out on the field. I made some good pitches and a couple fell in."
The Astros, who staged an unlikely ninth-inning comeback against Reds closer Aroldis Chapman to pull out a 5-3 win on Friday, took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Fernando Martinez's one-out double and Justin Maxwell's two-out bloop single to centre.
Bruce tied it on Norris's first pitch of the second with a mammoth, 421-foot homer to centre field, his career-high 33rd of the season. He set his previous career high of 32 last season.
Phillips led off the third with his 16th homer of the season and first since Aug. 29 at Arizona, giving the Reds a 2-1 lead. His 368-foot, opposite-field shot to right bounced off the top of the fence and into the seats.
Phillips is 4 for 8 with two walks in his last two games, his second and third since moving back to the leadoff spot after Votto returned the lineup. Phillips mostly batted third while Votto was out for 48 games with a knee injury.
"It usually takes a while to get used to it," the second baseman said of the transition, which he's made in previous seasons. "Today was one of those days when they fell in. It might be coming back sooner this time."
The Reds got help from Houston to break the game open with a three-run sixth.
Cincinnati loaded the bases on Votto's leadoff ground-rule double, a one-out intentional walk to Bruce and an unintentional walk to Todd Frazier. Ryan Hanigan drove in Votto with a single to right, and DeFrancesco brought in right-hander Fernando Rodriguez to face Wilson Valdez, who hit a dribbler up the third base line. Bruce scored and Rodriguez's wild throw while lying on his back sailed into the Reds dugout for a throwing error that allowed Frazier to score.
Notes: Bruce has homered in six of his last eight games. ... Cincinnati SS Zack Cozart's sore back was diagnosed as a strained left oblique after he underwent an MRI on Friday. Valdez made his second consecutive start in Cozart's place. ... DeFrancesco shored up his injury-plagued infield by giving Jimmy Paredes his first career start at second base. Paredes opened the season as a minor-league infielder before being moved to the outfield. All-Star 2B Jose Altuve (left lower abdominal strain), 3B Matt Dominguez (sore left hand) and IF Scott Moore (left groin strain) and Brandon Laird (flu-like symptoms) all were not available.