NEW YORK (AP) — Poor play on the road has been a problem for the Atlanta Braves all season. Now, their playoff hopes may hinge on them showing some immediate improvement.
The Braves begin their final road trip of the season Friday night against the suddenly-surging New York Mets.
At 52-23, Atlanta owns the best home record in baseball, but is 31-41 away from Turner Field to undermine its chances at its first NL East title in five years.
Losers in seven of their last nine on the road, the Braves are three games behind first-place Philadelphia while trying to hold off San Diego, San Francisco and Colorado for the wild card.
Atlanta (83-64) may improve its postseason chances with a strong trip. After three games in New York, the Braves will face the Phillies and last-place Washington in three-game sets.
“This is a big road trip, and if you come back 3-6, you’re in trouble,” closer Billy Wagner told the team’s official website. “Unless Philly decides to go 0-9, you’re in trouble.”
Atlanta, however, comes in after losing two of three at home to the Nationals, including a 4-2 defeat Wednesday. Martin Prado and Matt Diaz each had three hits
The Braves are 2-4 at Citi Field this year with both wins coming in their most recent visit in July.
Tommy Hanson (9-11, 3.54 ERA) will try to get the trip off to a strong start by continuing his success against the Mets (74-73).
The right-hander is 2-1 with a 0.73 ERA in four starts versus New York, and yielded one hit in seven scoreless innings of a 4-1 victory over the Mets on Sept. 1. However, that’s his only victory in 13 starts as Hanson has gone 1-6 with a 2.77 ERA while getting an average of 2.43 runs of support.
The lack of offense continued Saturday when Hanson was backed by three runs while allowing two over seven innings of a 6-3, 12-inning win against St. Louis.
The Mets enter this series having won eight of 11, and after sweeping a four-game set from NL-worst Pittsburgh with Thursday’s 6-2 victory.
“We’re playing the best baseball we have in a while – even if the Pirates have made some mistakes,” manager Jerry Manuel said.
Manuel will give the ball to Jonathon Niese (9-8, 3.85), who is 0-3 with a 6.38 ERA in his last four home starts.
The left-hander gave up three runs in seven innings of a 3-0 home loss to Philadelphia on Sunday. The Mets were held to four hits by Roy Oswalt.
“I thought he pitched extremely well. I thought he had good stuff, good life on his pitches,” Manuel said of Niese.
Niese is 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA in four starts against the Braves. The loss came on Aug. 31, when he gave up a season-high eight runs – three earned – and 10 hits in 4 2-3 innings of a 9-2 defeat.
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