Houston (40-46) at Atlanta (40-46)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Atlanta, GA
Temp: 76° F
  • Game info: 7:35 pm EDT Fri Jul 4, 2008
  • TV: FSSW, PTV
Preview | Box Score | Recap

With John Smoltz out for the season, Tim Hudson is supposed to be the ace of Atlanta’s rotation. The Braves could certainly use a dominant start from him now.

The Braves will try to avoid matching their longest losing streak of the season Friday night when they open a three-game series with the Houston Astros at Turner Field.

Atlanta (40-46) was swept in three games against Philadelphia, capped by Thursday’s 4-1 loss. With their fifth straight defeat, the Braves dropped a season-worst six games under .500 and seven games behind the NL East-leading Phillies.

The Braves lost six in a row June 6-12, a skid that started with a three-game home sweep at the hands of Philadelphia.

Atlanta was outscored 19-7 in this week’s series and went only 3-for-34 with runners in scoring position despite the return of third baseman Chipper Jones, shortstop Yunel Escobar, center fielder Mark Kotsay and infielder Martin Prado from injuries. Jones, who leads the majors with a .389 batting average, went 3-for-11 with two doubles and a homer after missing eight straight starts with a strained right quadriceps.

“We had (34) chances and three isn’t enough,” said catcher Brian McCann, who was 3-for-10 with two doubles against the Phillies.

Now, the Braves are hoping to get a boost from Hudson (8-6, 3.31 ERA), who is 6-1 with a 2.24 ERA in eight home starts this season. The right-hander is 1-3 over his last seven starts overall despite a 3.83 ERA. He gave up six runs for the second time in three starts on Saturday, going five innings in a 9-5 loss in Toronto.

Hudson gave up homers to Vernon Wells and Rod Barajas - the first right-handers to connect against him this season - and fell to 1-5 when allowing a home run.

“It’s kind of weird,” he said. “That’s a game where I felt pretty good, I felt in control. I just ran into some trouble in that sixth inning.”

Hudson is 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in three career starts against the Astros (40-46), who have dropped eight of their last 10 games in Atlanta dating to the start of the 2005 season.

Houston lost the last three games of its four-game home set with the Los Angeles Dodgers, including Thursday’s 5-2 defeat. J.R. Towles drove in both runs for the Astros, who had won six of eight before the three-game slide.

“We didn’t do a whole lot offensively. It seems like whenever we put together a good streak, we’re swinging the bats well, and we didn’t do that in the last part of the series,” Lance Berkman, who went 0-for-10 in the last three games, told the Astros’ official team Web site.

Carlos Lee was an exception, going 8-for-13 with a homer over the last three games. He is 10-for-25 (.400) with a homer and 10 RBIs all-time against Hudson.

Now, the Astros will hand the ball to Brian Moehler (4-3, 3.82), who has allowed one run in each of his last three starts. The right-hander went 5 2-3 innings and threw 111 pitches - the first time this season he has topped 100 - without getting a decision in the Astros’ 3-2 win over Boston on Sunday.

“I felt good, I felt strong,” he said. “I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow. I felt alright today.”

Moehler has struggled against the Braves, going 1-4 with a 5.12 ERA in 12 career appearances, including five starts. The win came in his first outing against them in 1997 while with Detroit.

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Starting Pitchers

B. Moehler Hou vs. T. Hudson SF
11-8 Record 11-7
4.56 ERA 3.17
82 K 85
36 BB 40
1.35 WHIP 1.16

Scoreboard

Friday, Jul 4