Braves-Brewers Preview

The Associated Press

Save for one big offensive performance, the Atlanta Braves' lineup hasn't done much to support its solid starting pitching over the last week.

The Milwaukee Brewers took advantage in the series opener, and their recent hot stretch has them one game away from reaching the .500 mark for the first time in 4 1/2 months.

Atlanta hopes its offense has a little more pop to back Tim Hudson when it faces surging Milwaukee on Tuesday night at Miller Park.

The Braves (81-61) hold a comfortable lead atop the NL wild-card standings despite having their five-game winning streak snapped with a 4-1 loss Monday to the Brewers, who had dropped the previous seven meetings.

Atlanta has counted on its pitching staff to carry the load over the last six games, posting three shutouts during the winning streak and getting 5 2-3 scoreless innings from Mike Minor before the bullpen allowed a four-run seventh in the series opener.

The Braves beat the New York Mets 11-3 on Saturday but scored nine runs combined in the other five contests. Starting pitchers are 4-0 with a 0.98 ERA in that stretch.

"We had chances," manager Fredi Gonzalez told the team's official website. "It's hard to win ballgames when you only score one run."

Hudson (14-5, 3.59 ERA) was able to help Atlanta do just that when he allowed six hits in seven innings of Thursday's 1-0 win over Colorado after going 2-1 with a 5.02 ERA over his previous five outings, though he said he can still pitch better.

''It definitely wasn't my best stuff,'' Hudson said. ''I smoke-and-mirrored them a little bit.''

The right-hander sure seemed to be at his best the last time he faced Milwaukee, one-hitting the Brewers in an 8-0 home victory May 4, 2011, allowing only Rickie Weeks' double in the fourth.

Weeks, though, is 2 for 21 lifetime off Hudson, who is 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA in five career starts at Miller Park and will look to slow a Brewers team that has won 16 of 21.

Norichika Aoki hit a two-run double Monday for Milwaukee (70-71), which is a win away from reaching the .500 mark for the first time since it was 9-9 on April 24.

The Brewers, who have won seven straight and 15 of 17 at home despite only four hits Monday, are all but assured they won't repeat as NL Central champs, though they're only five games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild-card spot with 21 to play.

''A lot of good things happening without getting a lot of hits,'' manager Ron Roenicke said. ''Great pitching, Nori, ... some big plays defensively.''

Milwaukee will send Marco Estrada to the mound Tuesday as he looks to bounce back from a rough outing.

Estrada (2-6, 3.99) allowed four runs in five innings of Thursday's 6-2 loss to Miami after going 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA in his previous three starts.

''It was brutal,'' Estrada said. "I felt all out of whack. I just wasn't making my pitches and even when I did they got hit.''

The right-hander is 1-1 with an 8.74 ERA in two career starts versus the Braves - both in 2011 - but has pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings of relief over two appearances against them this season.