Despite facing a four-game deficit in the NL East with six to play, the Atlanta Braves are still focused on a division crown.
A favorable schedule makes this somewhat far-fetched goal seem possible.
The Braves look to beat the New York Mets for the 11th time in 12 games in Friday night’s opener at Turner Field.
Atlanta (91-65) secured at the very least the league’s top wild-card spot with Thursday’s 6-2 victory over Miami. This gives the Braves, winners of five in a row and 10 of 12, home-field advantage for the wild-card game, but they still have their sights set on unseating Washington atop the division.
“We’re playing good baseball right now, doing what we need to do,” Dan Uggla told the Braves’ official website. “We’ve got six games left, so we’ve just got to keep taking care of business and keep going the direction we’re going.”
Compiling a few more wins certainly seems likely for Atlanta, which also has won five straight over the Mets at Turner Field. The Braves complete their season with three games at scuffling Pittsburgh.
The Nationals, meanwhile, have three road games against a St. Louis team still trying to clinch the league’s second wild card and three at home versus Philadelphia.
Freddie Freeman has been instrumental to Atlanta’s success against the Mets, batting .333 with four homers, five doubles and 17 RBIs in the season series. In five games in Atlanta, he’s hitting .526 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.
Although the Mets (72-84) are winding up a fourth straight losing season, they arrive in Georgia winners of six of seven - rolling past the foundering Marlins and Pirates. New York, which defeated Pittsburgh 6-5 on Thursday, had won one of its previous 12 games.
Prior to the opener, Chipper Jones, who is retiring after this season, will be honored by the Braves.
Despite Atlanta’s success against New York, Jones is batting .167 in the season series, and is 2 for 18 against scheduled starter Jonathon Niese (12-9, 3.49 ERA) since 2010.
Jason Heyward, however, is 7 for 17 with two homers and two doubles lifetime against the left-hander, who gave up three runs and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings in Friday’s 7-3 victory over Miami.
In seven starts since Aug. 12, Niese has a 2.51 ERA but a modest 4-3 record. He’s received just three total runs of support in those defeats.
He has a 1.29 ERA in his two starts against the Braves over this stretch, and is 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in his last seven games in the series.
Atlanta counters with Tim Hudson (16-6, 3.61), who could be making his final start before the playoffs.
Although Hudson leads the team in wins, he has been extremely inconsistent in his 10 outings since the start of August. He has a 0.26 ERA in winning five, but is 1-2 with a 7.67 ERA in the other five.
After back-to-back subpar outings, the right-hander was sharp Sunday in Philadelphia, permitting an unearned run and two hits in 7 1-3 innings in a 2-1 victory.
“I am just trying to get my pitches a little more crisp and my arm slots where I want them to be,” he told the Braves’ official website. “(Sunday) was a great step in that direction.”
Hudson struggled in his lone start against the Mets on July 13, yielding four runs and eight hits in four innings of a game Atlanta won 7-5.
New York’s David Wright, who is batting .421 with three homers and nine RBIs during a five-game hitting streak, is a career .231 hitter against Hudson.
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