No matter what happens in their final series of the first half, the Atlanta Braves will head into the All-Star break atop the NL East.
That lead could have been bigger had they done a better job supporting Tim Hudson.
The right-hander tries to build on his first victory in two months Thursday night in the first of four against the visiting Cincinnati Reds.
Although Braves starters had a 4.21 ERA on a 3-3 trip that ended with Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to Miami, that group’s 3.52 ERA is a major reason why the team owns baseball’s largest divisional lead.
Atlanta (52-39) has held at least a share of the top spot in the East since April 5.
Hudson (5-7, 4.03 ERA) has the worst ERA among Braves starters, but he’s posted a 2.28 ERA in his last seven outings with opponents batting .207. He has a team-worst 3.42 run-support average while going 1-3 during that stretch, even after Atlanta set season highs for runs and hits (19) in Saturday’s 13-4 victory at Philadelphia.
Hudson, working on six days’ rest due to a sore neck, was 0-6 in his previous 10 starts.
“It makes my job a lot easier when we’re able to put up some crooked runs,” he told the Braves’ official website after yielding one run and walking none in seven innings.
Hudson, 3-0 with a 2.68 ERA in eight home starts, gets his first look at the Reds (51-40) since their last game in Atlanta, a 6-2 Braves victory May 15, 2012.
Atlanta took two of three from the Reds from May 6-8.
The Reds will now try to hand the Braves a season high-tying third straight home defeat after ending their three-game skid with Wednesday’s 6-2 victory at Milwaukee. Cincinnati scored four runs during its slide.
“It would have been a graveyard in here if we didn’t pull this one out,” starter Mike Leake said.
The Reds continue their trip with Mat Latos (8-2, 3.18) on the mound. The right-hander permitted four runs and a season high-tying four walks but struck out 11 over six innings in Saturday’s 13-4 victory over Seattle.
“The offense picked me up,” said Latos, who received four runs of support in his previous three starts. “Thirteen runs is always good, especially when I put us in a 2-0 hole.”
Latos, 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts in Atlanta, should be especially careful with Chris Johnson, who’s batting .409 with nine RBIs during an 11-game hitting streak. Johnson, 7 for 15 with a homer and three doubles off Latos, was hitless in five at-bats against the Reds in May.
Teammate Andrelton Simmons went 8 for 13 with two homers and four RBIs.
Chris Heisey, who was sidelined for that series with a hamstring injury, is questionable for Cincinnati after getting hit on the left arm by a pitch Tuesday and missing Wednesday’s game. Heisey is 9 for 11 in five career games in Atlanta.
Shin-Soo Choo, who has hit safely in a team-best eight straight, will play his first game there. The center fielder hit two homers, including a walkoff shot, in a 5-4 victory May 7.
Brandon Phillips is 3 for 21 when facing Hudson, while fellow All-Star starter Joey Votto is 1 for 10.