(AP) — A shrinking lead atop the NL East may have the Atlanta Braves feeling desperate to return to Turner Field. Having ace Tim Hudson take the mound opposite Johan Santana and the sputtering New York Mets may also help.

Hudson will try to help the Braves re-establish themselves as the best home team in baseball when they open a three-game series against the Mets on Monday night.

Atlanta (59-45) capped a 3-6 road trip with Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Cincinnati. The Braves hit .179 with runners in scoring position on the trip, going 1 for 10 on Sunday.

“We need to pick it up and start hitting a bit,” said manager Bobby Cox.

The Braves’ lead in the East is down to 2 1/2 games on Philadelphia after they began the road trip with a season-high seven-game advantage.

A seven-game homestand could help Atlanta rebuild that lead, and sending Hudson (11-5, 2.40 ERA) to the mound should provide a good start.

The Braves are a major league-best 34-13 at home, and Hudson has won six of nine starts there behind a 2.31 ERA. The right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his last four overall games, and has a 0.61 ERA in winning the last two.

He was superb again Wednesday, yielding one run while striking out seven over 7 2-3 innings in a 3-1 win at Washington.

Hudson is 11-5 with a 3.54 ERA in 17 starts versus the Mets (53-52). However, he’s 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his last three against them, scattering four hits over seven innings in a 4-0 victory at Citi Field on July 10.

Santana (8-5, 3.11), meanwhile, hopes to rebound from one of his worst performances of the season.

The left-hander was tagged for seven runs and 13 hits in 5 2-3 innings of an 8-7, 13-inning loss to St. Louis on Wednesday. That effort came after he put together a four-start stretch that saw him go 3-0 with a 0.58 ERA.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner owns a 1.79 ERA in eight games against Atlanta since joining the Mets in 2008, but only a 2-4 record due to a severe lack of run support. New York has provided him with two runs or fewer in each of those contests.

While the Braves are trying take control of the division, the Mets may be eying the next two series as a way to get back in the race. They’re fourth in the East, 6 1/2 back of the Braves, but have a three-game set at Philadelphia following this series.

New York, though, will need to show major improvement after dropping 15 of 21 with Sunday’s 14-1 loss to last-place Arizona.

“It definitely hurts your pride a little bit when you perform in that manner,” manager Jerry Manuel said. “We didn’t pitch, we didn’t hit, we didn’t play defense.”

The Mets have lost 15 of 20 away from home overall, and own the same record in the last 20 road matchups with the Braves.

The Braves are expected to be without Martin Prado for a third consecutive game as he nurses a fractured right pinky finger. The All-Star second baseman leads the team with a .362 average at Turner Field.

Omar Infante, another All-Star, has played second in Prado’s place the last two games, and is 9 for 17 over the last four contests. He’s 12 for 24 with a homer and two RBIs in six games this season against the Mets.

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