With the Reds coming to Minute Maid Park to open a three-game series against the streaking Astros on Tuesday night, all eyes will once again be on the switch-hitting Berkman.
The five-time All-Star has only appeared in six games since returning from knee surgery and he hit his first homer of the season Sunday, but if there's one series in which Big Puma could become unleashed, history and statistics show this will be the one.
Berkman is career .327 hitter with 48 home runs and 133 RBIs in 143 career games against Cincinnati. The home run total is tops among active players against the Reds, and it ranks 12th all-time in the club's 100-plus year history. Jeff Bagwell (49) is the only Astros player to hit more homers against the Reds.
"There's a comfort level when you know you've had success against a team in the past, and it gives you more confidence going into a game and a series," said Berkman, who's hitting .261 in 23 at-bats this year. "So much of this game is mental, and this could give you a little boost."
What's worse for the Reds is Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt is scheduled to pitch the series finale Thursday. Oswalt is 23-1 with a 2.58 ERA in 32 games (30 starts) against Cincinnati, and he's the first pitcher in Major League history to win 23 of his first 24 decisions against any team.
"It could be a confidence issue on his part, or a lack of confidence on ours," Reds third baseman Scott Rolen said. "It's hard to say. We know we're going to have our hands full when we face him."
Oswalt has won eight consecutive decisions since losing his only game to the Reds on April 28, 2006, but he had four no-decisions against them last year.
Houston went 4-12 against the Reds in 2009 -- only its second losing season against Cincinnati since 2001 -- and Berkman hit just .222 with four homers and nine RBIs in 14 games. Still, he averages a homer every 10.31 at-bats against the Reds, which ranks second in history behind Barry Bonds (9.85).
Berkman's dominance of Cincinnati has stretched from the early 2000s against pitchers like Jimmy Haynes, Danny Graves and Ryan Dempster to the present-day Reds like Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Aaron Harang.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the pitching over the years," Berkman said. "They've always had a lot of right-handed pitching and not a lot of left-handed pitching, and I'm a much better left-handed hitter than I am a right-handed hitter.
"I think it's a combination of factors. Statistical anomalies abound in the game. Everybody has one team they do well against and a couple they don't hit very well. I can't explain it more than that."
Berkman also considers Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park the best hitters' park in the league, thought the Astros won't make their first trip there until next month. He's a career .345 hitter at Great American with 21 homers and 53 RBIs, and he even hit well at Riverfront Stadium before that -- .395, nine homers and 31 RBIs in 22 games.
"He hits anything down and away, which is your safe zone for most guys if you want to stay off their power," said Arroyo, who has given up five homers in 47 Berkman at-bats. "He hits that ball to the opposite way with so much juice. He's impossible to pitch to sometimes. You hope you can get inside on him but sometimes he'll jump you there and hit you out of the park. You try to make perfect pitches every time you face him".
Against the Astros this week, the Reds will throw three right-handers -- Harang on Tuesday, Mike Leake on Wednesday and Arroyo on Thursday. Berkman is a .255 hitter with seven homers and 10 RBIs in 51-at-bats against Harang, and he has never faced the rookie Leake.
"I'm sure they're tired of hearing about it, and I certainly don't like to have it mentioned, even though it is every time we face them," Berkman said.
Oswalt ranks eighth all-time in wins against the Reds, trailing Greg Maddux (24-16), Juan Marichal (24-16) and Johnny Podres (24-17) for fifth place. Only Bob Welch (2.32) and Doug Drabek (2.51) have posted lower ERAs in a minimum of 140 innings against Cincinnati.
"He comes right at you," said Rolen, a first-year member of the Reds who has a .205 batting average and no homers in 39 career at-bats against Oswalt. "The fact that he's throwing 96 [mph] doesn't help. He's not picking around the plate. He's getting the ball and throws out. He knows what he's doing. He controls the game with his fastball".
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.