The news keeps getting better for the Florida Marlins.
They have won nine of their last 12 games, are one game above .500 for the first time since April 26 and are coming off a lopsided win over a hated division rival.
But that’s just a few reasons to be excited.
Willis, with his throwback leg kick and delivery, has been spectacular this season. The 21-year-old left-hander has allowed one run or fewer in three straight outings and six of his last seven.
In an admittedly average performance on Friday, Willis held the New York Mets to one earned run in seven innings. In doing so, he became only the fourth pitcher since 1920 to win eight times in his first 10 major league starts before his 22nd birthday.
“They made some good adjustments at the plate and they got some hits, but in key situations, I was able to get the outs,” Willis said.
The Braves had a tough time getting outs on Tuesday as the Marlins set a team record for runs in a 20-1 win over the Braves. They also tied a club mark for hits with 25.
“We had our hitting shoes on,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “We were on the other side of that rout last week. We weren’t trying to run up the score. It’s hard to ask guys to stop hitting and scoring.”
While the Marlins are trying to work their way into the National League wild-card race, the NL East-leading Braves have struggled of late.
Atlanta has lost three of four and five of seven. The Braves have seen their lead over the Philadelphia Phillies shrink to just 4 1/2 games.
The Braves managed only four hits during Tuesday’s loss and scored their lone run on a RBI groundout by Gary Sheffield.
STANDINGS: Braves - 1st place, NL East. Marlins - 4th place, 10 GB, NL East.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTER: Horacio Ramirez (7-2, 3.97 ERA). Ramirez has won three consecutive starts and six consecutive decisions. In an 8-2 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Friday, the 23-year-old left-hander allowed two runs and seven hits while striking out eight and walking one. In two starts against the Marlins this season, Ramirez is 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA.
MARLINS PROBABLE STARTER: Willis (8-1, 2.26 ERA). Willis has pitched at least six innings in seven of his 10 starts. He’ll be making his first start against the Braves.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Braves - Sheffield, .320 avg., 65 RBIs and 66 runs; Javy Lopez, 23 HRs; Rafael Furcal, 14 SBs. Marlins - Castillo, .318 avg.; Mike Lowell, 25 HRs, 71 RBIs and 58 runs; Juan Pierre, 38 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Marlins, 5-4.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Braves - LF Chipper Jones needs one hit to reach 1,500 for his career. He is 0-for-9 over his last three games. … In their last six losses, the Braves have been outscored 62-14. … C Lopez is batting .400 (14-for-35) during a 10-game hitting streak. Marlins - OF Juan Encarnacion has missed two straight games because of a strained right hamstring. … C Rodriguez has at least one RBI in a career-high eight straight games. … LF Cabrera’s homer in the second inning on Tuesday ended an 0-for-19 slump. He finished the game 4-for-6.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Braves - 24-18 on the road; Marlins - 25-18 at home.
INJURIES: Braves - RHP Paul Byrd (elbow), 15-day DL. Marlins - RHP Kevin Olsen (concussion), 15-day DL; RHP Tim Spooneybarger (arm), 15-day DL; RHP Toby Borland (appendicitis), 60-day DL; RHP A.J. Burnett (elbow), 60-day DL.