Atlanta (32-38) at Miami (39-32)

  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Thu Jun 24, 2004
Preview | Box Score | Recap

It may only be June, but the Atlanta Braves are already concerned about falling out of the NL East race.

The Braves, who have won a record 12 consecutive division titles, will try to avoid a three-game sweep in the finale of their series with the first-place Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium.

Atlanta, which has lost six of its last seven, now trails Florida by 6 1/2 games in the East. After a 6-0 loss Wednesday, the Braves fell six games below .500 for the first time since 1990, when they finished 65-97. The next year, Atlanta began its historic run of division crowns.

Veteran first baseman Julio Franco has expressed concern about Atlanta’s prospects for the rest of the season.

“We better start playing ball or things could get away from us,” Franco said. “We don’t want to go down by 12 games at the All-Star break, because things could get real ugly around here. These next games are important, because we at least want to stay in the pack.”

The Braves, who also trail the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets in the NL East, will play 11 of their next 17 games against division rivals.

To make up ground in the race, they know they’ll need to hit better than they did on Wednesday. Atlanta had one baserunner in each inning, but could not get any of them past second.

Marlins starter Brad Penny pitched six strong innings, and Juan Pierre and Jeff Conine both homered to hand the Braves their fifth consecutive series loss.

Pierre’s leadoff homer was the first of his career. His only other homer this season was an inside-the-parker.

“Balls don’t usually come off my bat like that,” said Pierre, who tied his career high with two homers this season. “I’ve got to enjoy that one a little bit. … My power numbers are coming early this year.”

As the Marlins try for a series sweep, they’ll look for a strong start from Dontrelle Willis. The NL rookie of the year allowed seven runs—four earned— and nine hits over 4 2-3 innings Saturday in a 7-6 loss to the Texas Rangers.

“Just a bad game, to sum it up,” Willis said. “I didn’t have a good tempo today, and unfortunately, they just jumped out early. I was hoping we’d make a run at the end. We just fell short.”

Willis was 2-0 with a 1.55 ERA in his previous four starts.

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Starting Pitchers

M. Hampton ARI vs. D. Willis MIL
13-9 Record 10-11
4.28 ERA 4.02
87 K 139
65 BB 61
1.53 WHIP 1.38