The Atlanta Braves may have thought a four-game set with the last-place Miami Marlins would be an ideal chance to move closer to an inevitable NL East title.
The series is a lot more spirited than expected.
A day after tempers flared and the benches cleared, the Braves will try to remain focused on preparing for the postseason Thursday in the series finale in Miami.
Atlanta (87-58) owns the best record in the NL, and Miami (54-90) has the worst. The disparity between the division rivals has been evident by the Braves winning seven of the first eight season meetings at Marlins Park, including victories in the first two of this series.
The Braves failed to make it three in a row Wednesday, falling 5-2. The game was marred by a bench-clearing incident in the sixth, when Brian McCann confronted Marlins' rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez after he was perceived to be showing up Mike Minor following his first home run.
"He stood there for a while, and that's disrespectful to Mike," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "That was bad."
Still, Atlanta can take solace in its 11-game lead on second-place Washington in the division race.
That ample lead affords the Braves the luxury of resting starting pitchers in preparation for the postseason. That means rookie Alex Wood is getting a breather Thursday, despite only throwing 70 1-3 innings in 25 games - 10 starts.
"(Wood) hasn't pitched in September ever or this long," manager Fredi Gonzalez told the team's official website.
Gonzalez will instead give Freddy Garcia (0-1, 1.17 ERA) his first start for Atlanta.
The 36-year-old right-hander has made three appearances out of the bullpen since being recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett on Sept. 1. His last start June 23 earned him a demotion to the minors, surrendering seven runs in 2 1-3 innings for Baltimore in a 13-5 loss at Toronto.
Garcia didn't inspire much confidence in his only start for Gwinnett on Aug. 26, giving up eight runs with five walks while being pulled with two outs in the fourth.
However, he tossed 4 2-3 scoreless innings against the Marlins after Wood was chased for giving up all of Miami's scoring in the opening 2 1-3 of a 7-0 loss Sept. 1. Garcia had a 7.13 ERA in his first three starts against the Marlins.
Nathan Eovaldi (3-6, 3.80) started opposite Wood in that matchup, and tossed a season-high eight innings to earn the win after going 0-5 with a 4.30 ERA over his previous eight games.
Eovaldi, though, may also be skipped because he's dealing with an ailing back.
"His start is going to be in jeopardy," manager Mike Redmond told the team's official website. "It looks like he will probably be unable to go, and (Brian) Flynn, we will move him up."
Flynn, 23, made his major league debut last Wednesday, allowing three runs and two homers with three walks in four innings while not getting a decision in a 9-7 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
The left-hander showed promise with Triple-A New Orleans, going 4-2 with a 1.36 ERA over his last nine starts before being recalled by the Marlins on Sept. 3.
He'll have to contend with 27-year-old rookie Evan Gattis, who has a .394 average with three homers, five doubles and 11 RBIs in nine meetings with the Marlins. He's 6 for 16 (.375) with three homers and seven RBIs in the past four overall games.
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