Braves-Mets Preview

The NL East-leading Atlanta Braves enter a three-game set

against the second-place New York Mets on Friday night having won

14 of their last 18 series.

To extend that surge heading into the All-Star break, the Braves

will have to avoid a repeat of their previous visit to Citi

Field.

A slow start gave little indication of Atlanta having any

success as it dropped 14 of 22, including all three games in New

York from April 23-25. That sweep was part of an 0-7 road trip –

the franchise’s worst in 61 years – and first nine-game losing

streak since 2006.

Since ending that skid, the Braves (50-35) are a major

league-best 42-21, and have a three-game lead over the Mets

(47-38).

Atlanta has helped its cause with three straight series

victories over division rivals, and took two of three in

Philadelphia earlier this week after dropping eight of its previous

13 road games.

Martin Prado had five hits and three homers during the wins over

the Phillies to boost his NL-leading average to .336. The second

baseman, who’s heading to his first All-Star game next week, enters

the matchup with the Mets batting .369 in his last 38 games.

While Prado has been consistent lately, the team he’ll face next

hasn’t. New York has dropped 10 of 18, gone winless in three

consecutive series, and alternated losses and wins in its last

seven home games.

The Mets bench took a hit when Fernando Tatis was sent to the

disabled list Monday with a sprained right shoulder, leaving the

team with one right-handed batter in reserve – catcher Henry

Blanco. That could have New York making a move before the series,

especially with left-handers going 2 for 26 this season against

Braves closer Billy Wagner.

“We’ve talked about adding a right-handed hitter for Tatis,

which you could possibly use with a left-handed stopper like the

Braves have,” manager Jerry Manuel told the team’s official

website.

Despite injuries and inconsistency, Manuel’s team managed to win

its sixth consecutive series at Citi Field on June 27 but that run

ended with Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Cincinnati.

R.A. Dickey (6-1, 2.62 ERA) will try to help New York bounce

back by winning his first career start against the Braves.

Following his worst performance of the season, the knuckleballer

nearly earned his seventh victory in eight starts by allowing two

unearned runs in seven innings Saturday at Washington. The Mets

bullpen, though, gave up four runs in the final two frames of a 6-5

loss.

Dickey has no record and a 15.00 ERA in two appearances against

Atlanta.

The Braves will counter with Tommy Hanson (8-5, 4.19), who has

appeared to get past a recent rough stretch.

Before Saturday’s 4-1 win over Florida, Hanson hadn’t gotten out

of the fourth inning in back-to-back losses. Against the Marlins,

he allowed one unearned run while striking out eight.

“I think that’s the biggest thing I could take away from those

two bad outings: Just trust my stuff and stay aggressive,” Hanson

said.

Hanson allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings in his

only start last season against the Mets but was on the wrong end of

a 1-0 decision in a rain-shortened, 5 1/2-inning game April 25.

The teams split two games in Atlanta from May 17-18 with both

decided by 3-2 margins.