By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- The surging Cincinnati Reds are clicking on all cylinders despite Joey Votto's absence.
Brandon Phillips is a big reason why.
Cincinnati tries to extend its winning streak to a season best-tying six for the fourth time this year Tuesday night in the second of three with the major league-worst Houston Astros.
The NL Central-leading Reds (56-40) lost Votto to a knee injury just over a week ago but haven't missed a beat. Cincinnati has won 12 of 14 despite playing its last eight games without the 2010 NL MVP.
The Reds have proven plenty potent during their five-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 26-13 while batting .290 - including .350 (14 for 40) with runners in scoring position.
Much of that can be attributed to Phillips. The two-time All-Star is batting .429 with two homers, 11 runs scored and 11 RBIs in his last 12 games. He's spent the last seven hitting third in the lineup - Votto's usual spot.
Phillips, Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier each went 3 for 6 in Monday's 8-3 win, with Ludwick and Frazier each scoring two runs and driving in two.
"We got some big hits tonight," manager Dusty Baker said. "(The Astros') record isn't good right now but they never quit."
Houston (34-63) has dropped seven in a row by a 58-22 margin and 20 of 22 overall. The Astros have compiled an 8.37 ERA during their losing streak.
Batting .469 in his last 10 games versus Cincinnati, Chris Johnson matched a career best with four hits Monday.
"We're trying not to believe in personal goals around here and just trying to turn this thing around, so I'd rather take an 0-for for a win," he said.
While little has gone the Astros' way, Lucas Harrell (7-7, 4.24 ERA) has proven to be a rare bright spot. The right-hander has allowed one or zero runs in four of his last five outings, over which he's gone 1-2 despite a 2.18 ERA.
Harrell suffered a hard-luck loss Thursday, allowing four hits and striking out six over seven innings in a 1-0 loss at San Diego.
"Lucas was absolutely outstanding," manager Brad Mills told the team's official website. " ... What a great job he did. He's been doing a good job for us all year and he continues to do a good job."
Harrell has been especially good at home, going 5-1 with a 1.99 ERA over seven starts while holding opponents to a .222 average. In his last start at Minute Maid Park, Harrell threw a six-hitter in a 1-0 victory over San Diego on June 27 for his first shutout and complete game.
Harrell, though, was knocked around in his only career start against the Reds, yielding six runs and nine hits over six innings in a 6-0 road loss April 28.
Cincinnati counters with Mike Leake (3-6, 4.25), who was tagged for a season worst-tying six runs over 5 1-3 innings Thursday but didn't factor in the decision of a 7-6 victory over Arizona. Leake's 11 hits allowed matched a career high.
While Leake has run into some trouble at home, he's recently pitched well on the road. The right-hander has gone 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA over his last four starts in opposing ballparks - including a 4-1 victory at Houston on June 1 in which he allowed one run and struck out a season-high seven in seven innings.
Leake is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA over three career road starts against the Astros.
The Reds won six straight May 19-24, June 12-17 and July 6-15.
Updated July 24, 2012