Braves try to regroup against spiraling Marlins

The Atlanta Braves will try to put an unsatisfying weekend behind them when they head to South Florida to face a slumping Miami Marlins team tonight in the opener of a three-game set.

The Braves opened a four-game series at NL East-leading Washington by earning back-to-back victories before stumbling and dropping the final two games of the set and leaving the nation's capital exactly where they began, 3 1/2 games behind the Nationals.

Washington's Ryan Zimmerman crushed a pair of home runs on Sunday as the Nats routed Atlanta, 9-2.

"I feel like we had a chance to win the series," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We had an opportunity to win it and it just didn't happen."

"We're right back where we started," Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones added. "Now it's time to hopefully make up ground while we're playing in separate cities."

Atlanta, which is a major league-best 28-19 on the road and percentage points behind Pittsburgh for the NL Wild Card lead, will turn to lefty Mike Minor for the opener in Miami, a city in which the Braves have won 10 of their last 12 after a three-game sweep in early June.

Minor was once in danger of losing his spot in the Braves' rotation, but has responded nicely in July with two solid starts in which he has recorded a 2.19 earned run average. In his last outing, Minor whiffed seven and allowed just one run in six innings during a 9-4, 11-inning loss to San Francisco in which he received a no-decision.

The Marlins, meanwhile, will be hoping to avoid matching a season-high with a sixth straight setback tonight.

Miami was swept by Pittsburgh at PNC Park over the weekend, including a 3-0 whitewash on Sunday which sent the Marlins falling to a season-high seven games under .500.

"Really, we can't get anything done on offense," manager Ozzie Guillen told the Marlins' website.

An anemic offense may not help with the struggling Josh Johnson on the hill. The big right-hander, who gets the call for Miami tonight, is 0-2 with a dismal 7.56 ERA in three July starts and allowed four runs over 6 1/3 innings in his last outing, a 5-1 loss at the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday.

Johnson, however, traditionally pitches very well versus the Braves and is 5-4 with a tremendous 2.29 ERA in 17 career games (16 starts) against Atlanta.

On the injury front for Miami, Hanley Ramirez is expected to miss a fourth consecutive game with a hand infection.