The Atlanta Braves have little margin for error if they’re going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Fortunately for manager Bobby Cox’s club, they’ve spent the last three weeks looking virtually flawless.
The Braves have won 15 of 17 to pull within two games of the NL wild card lead, and baseball’s hottest team will look for its first eight-game winning streak in more than six years Tuesday night when it hosts the Florida Marlins.
Atlanta (86-70) appeared to be all but eliminated from the playoff picture Sept. 6 after dropping its fifth straight game, but has looked like a juggernaut down the stretch to climb back into the race. The Braves have pieced together a pair of seven-game winning streaks to pull to within two games of wild card-leading Colorado and four games of Philadelphia for the NL East lead.
Atlanta began a season-ending seven-game homestand with win No. 7 on its latest streak Monday night against Florida (83-74), which was ahead of the Braves as recently as Sept. 20 and looked to be the East’s biggest wild-card threat.
The Braves haven’t won eight consecutive games since July 4-11, 2003.
“We’ve got a chance to do it,” Cox said after his team watched the final outs of Houston’s 8-2 win over the Phillies. “You can’t get away from it. We’re watching the scoreboard every inning. But really, you can only worry about your own team.”
With four home games against woeful Washington to close the regular season, Atlanta’s most dangerous remaining game may come Tuesday. Marlins ace Josh Johnson(notes) (15-5, 3.12 ERA) will take the hill looking to become the team’s first 16-game winner since Dontrelle Willis(notes) went 22-10 in 2005.
Johnson missed out on his first chance to do so last Tuesday against the Phillies, giving up four runs and seven hits over five innings of a 9-3 loss, though he did strike out 10.
Johnson, who has pitched a career-high 199 1-3 innings, was originally slated to pitch Sunday against the New York Mets, but was scratched due to flu-like symptoms.
“I want to get that 200-inning mark, and just be out there for my team,” Johnson told the Marlins’ official Web site. “That’s the only thing that upset me (Sunday) is I wanted to go out there and help my team. I want to be out there for the guys and battle for them.”
Johnson is 4-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 11 games - 10 starts - against Atlanta, and pitched a complete game in Florida’s 4-1 win Aug. 27, 2008, in his last visit to Turner Field.
Tim Hudson(notes) (2-1, 3.56) will make his sixth start for the Braves in September after missing more than a year due to right elbow surgery. He picked up his first win since his season debut Wednesday at the New York Mets, giving up two runs and nine hits over six innings of a 5-2 victory.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I don’t think I’m quite 100 percent, but I feel like every time out I’m progressing really well,” Hudson said.
Hudson allowed two runs over 5 1-3 innings Sept. 1 in a 4-3 win at Florida, improving to 8-2 with a 2.68 ERA in 14 career starts against the Marlins.