Braves pay a visit to Citizens Bank Park

Anything less than a sweep of this three-game series with place hot Cliff Lee.

The Braves enter this opener as the leaders in the league's wild card race and also 7 1/2 games back of the Phillies in the standings. The two clubs have played a tight series all year, splitting 12 overall meetings and six in Philadelphia.

Though the Phillies own the best record in the majors at 88-48, the Braves still have a chance at catching the club as long as they take care of business. In addition to this series, Atlanta and Philadelphia close out the regular season with a three-game set down south.

First, the Braves will need to solve Lee, who has sandwiched two incredible months around a shaky July.

Lee allowed only one run over 42 innings while going 5-0 in June with a 0.21 earned run average. After posting a 1-2 mark and 4.91 ERA in five July outings, he won all five of his games in August while giving up a pair of runs over 39 2/3 innings for a 0.45 ERA. The lefty capped the month with consecutive scoreless outings, falling one out shy of his sixth shutout of the season on Wednesday at Cincinnati.

Lee scattered six hits and a walk in the 3-0 win, but left with the bases loaded in the ninth. However, closer Ryan Madson notched the final out as Lee moved to 15-7 with a 2.59 ERA.

"I had a good changeup working tonight. I was working ahead in the count for the most part," said the 33-year-old, who owns a career-high 198 strikeouts on the season.

Lee, though, has yet to beat the Braves in three starts this season. He is 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA, though he did throw eight innings of one-run ball against them on July 9 in a no-decision.

Atlanta counters with a streaking starter of its own in Derek Lowe, who showed signs at the end of August of finishing the season strong for a second straight year.

The veteran righty won all five of his September starts a season ago while posting a 1.17 earned run average. Though he split six outings last month, Lowe gave up just three earned runs over his last three starts. One of those came on Wednesday against the Nationals over his six-inning victory.

"We'll take it. It's winding down and every win is big," said Lowe. "We know where we stand in the division, but you can't get complacent. Just because you build a good lead it doesn't mean that you can coast. We want to go out there and play like we have all year. The goal is to catch the Phillies."

The 38-year-old is 9-12 with a 4.52 ERA in 29 starts this season and has pitched well in three outings versus the Phillies in 2011. Though just 1-2, he has a 2.84 ERA.

The Braves shaved a game off their deficit on Sunday with a 4-3 victory over the Dodgers. Right after Michael Bourn was robbed of a potential game-winning hit, Martin Prado came threw with a game-winning single in the ninth to avoid getting swept in a three-game series for the first time this year.

The Phillies will be trying to avoid a third straight setback after losing in 14 innings to the Marlins on Sunday. David Herndon worked out of bases-loaded jams in the 12th and 13th innings, but could pull off the feat again in the 14th as he walked in a run with two outs in a 5-4 loss.

Philadelphia played the game under protest after a call in the sixth inning that took a double away from Hunter Pence because of fan interference. Two men -- including one in a Phillies jersey -- reached over the wall and touched the long drive, getting in the way of right fielder Bryan Petersen, who may have had a chance to catch it.

After a review, Pence was called out and Ryan Howard was sent from third base back to first. The game was tied 2-2 at the time.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was ejected for arguing with first base umpire Joe West, Sunday's crew chief, about the ruling.

"You hate to see it happen like that," said Phils starter Roy Halladay. "I've never been a fan of replay to begin with, but that's the way it is now. You can decided those things by watching TV."

The Phils, who like the Braves have not been swept in a series of at least three games this season, lost back-to-back road contests for the first time since dropping four in a row from May 31-June 4.