Marlins' LeBlanc takes on the Braves at home

September 17, 2012

By sweeping a series from the NL East leaders, the Atlanta Braves have managed to stay in the conversation for the division crown.

A far more realistic way to make the playoffs is securing the NL's first wild card, and a series with the last-place Miami Marlins should help with that endeavor, especially with Tim Hudson set to pitch.

Hudson looks to win his fifth straight start over the Marlins, while the surging Braves hope to carry an encouraging showing from over the weekend into Monday night's opener.

Atlanta (84-63) arrives in Miami after taking three straight from first-place Washington to pull within 5 1/2 games of the Nationals with 15 to play.

"There's still a lot of baseball left," manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Sunday's 5-1 win. "Who knows what could happen? We've just got to keep playing and keep winning ballgames."

While winning their first division title since 2005 seems unlikely, the Braves own a seven-game advantage over St. Louis for the NL's first wild card. They are also eight ahead of the Cardinals' closest challenger, Los Angeles.

Atlanta would seem to have a good chance of moving closer to a playoff berth, considering it's 9-3 against the Marlins this season, and has won five of six in Miami.

Hudson (14-6, 3.66 ERA) threw a five-hitter at Marlins Park on June 5, and has a 1.78 ERA in winning his last four starts in the series. The right-hander might also be due for a strong performance since he's alternated stellar and shaky outings in his last eight starts, and is coming off a subpar showing.

Since the start of August, Hudson has a 0.33 ERA in his four wins, but is 0-2 with a 7.77 ERA in his other four games. In Milwaukee on Tuesday, he gave up four runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 5-0 loss.

The Braves combined for three runs in being swept by the Brewers, but they appear to be getting their offense back on track, having plated five in each of their last two contests.

Jason Heyward finished the series against the Nationals with a homer and three RBIs, and is likely eager to face Miami pitching. He is hitting .340 with four homers and 10 RBIs against the Marlins this year, and is 4 for 7 with a homer and double lifetime against probable starter Wade LeBlanc (2-4, 2.95).

LeBlanc came out of the bullpen to make his first start of the season in Atlanta on Aug. 1, and gave up a run in 4 1-3 innings. He has gone five innings or fewer in four of his seven starts, including last Monday, when he allowed three runs and four hits in five innings of a 3-1 loss at Philadelphia.

The Marlins used a franchise-record nine pitchers in Sunday's 5-4, 11-inning loss to Cincinnati, their fourth defeat in six games. Miami appeared to have a walkoff win when John Buck hit a ball to deep center field with one on and two out in the 11th, but Drew Stubbs leaped to make the game-ending catch just in front of the 418-foot wall.

Jose Reyes finished that series 8 for 13 with two doubles after going hitless in 14 at-bats in his previous four games, and he might be just warming up. He is batting .406 with two home runs in his last eight games against Atlanta, and is 6 for 17 (.353) with a homer and two doubles against Hudson since the start of last season.