The Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves entered this three-game series tied in the competitive NL wild-card chase. A Marlins victory in the finale can quickly put three games between the division rivals.
The surging Marlins look for their eighth win in nine games and a sweep over the suddenly struggling Braves on Thursday.After getting swept by NL East-leading Philadelphia in a three-game series two weeks ago, Florida's playoff hopes looked grim. However, a 5-1 road trip against San Diego and the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers and back-to-back wins over Atlanta have pulled the Marlins (53-48) within two games of wild-card leading San Francisco."That's what I'm most proud of this team -- the way we've come back from that (Phillies series)," said Florida's Josh Johnson, the winning pitcher in Wednesday's 6-3 victory.To go with his solid pitching, Johnson hit a three-run homer for the Marlins, who improved to 5-2 against the Braves (51-50) this season.Hanley Ramirez added a solo homer and is 5 for 11 with seven RBIs during Florida's three-game winning streak.While the Marlins appear to be heating up, the Braves have dropped four of six after winning six of their previous seven.Atlanta's inconsistent offense is responsible for its latest slide. The Braves have plated 19 runs in their last two wins but only seven in the four losses."We have to win (Thursday)," catcher Brian McCann said. "That's the only positive you can take out of (Wednesday)."Javier Vazquez (8-7, 2.98 ERA) looks to help the Braves avoid being swept for the first time since dropping all three games of a series at San Francisco from May 25-27.The Braves have counted on Vazquez to help the team bounce back from a loss in each of his last three starts, and he has responded by winning each time. Vazquez, who is 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in his last six outings, hasn't won four starts in a row since Sept. 12-28, 2007, with the Chicago White Sox.In Friday's 9-4 win over Milwaukee, the right-hander allowed four runs and seven hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings.Vazquez was solid in his only start of the season against the Marlins, but didn't get much help from his offense. On April 14, the right-hander gave up three runs and five hits while striking out 12 in six innings of a 5-1 loss. He has recorded a 6.95 ERA in losing his last four starts versus the Marlins.Florida counters with Rick VandenHurk (1-0, 2.45), who tries to move closer to nailing down a regular spot in the starting rotation.After opening the season on the 60-day disabled list with right elbow soreness and making nine starts for Triple-A New Orleans, VandenHurk has yielded three runs over 11 innings in his first two outings with the big club. In Florida's 4-3 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday, the right-hander -- who has bounced between the majors and minors the last two years -- allowed one run and five hits in five innings.VandenHurk has had success against the Braves, going 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in his last three starts versus them. In his only outing against Atlanta last season on July 22, VandenHurk struck out seven and didn't allow a hit but walked five in five innings of a 4-0 win.