Braves entertain Mets in Dixie

The Braves hope that the bumpiest part of their road to the playoffs is over. Getting Derek Lowe a victory tonight would certainly smooth things out.

Lowe tries to avoid matching his career high for most losses in a season as Atlanta begins a three-game series with the struggling New York Mets.

The Braves dropped the opener of their recently-completed series with the Marlins on Monday, giving them four straight defeats for the first time this season. However, Atlanta got on track by taking the final two games of the set, including Wednesday's 4-1 win.

With the victory, Atlanta leads St. Louis for the wild card position by 4 1/2 games and has a magic number of nine to clinch the final spot. A loss tonight coupled with a victory by Philadelphia would also clinch the NL East title for the Phillies.

Alex Gonzalez had the big blow in the most recent victory, hitting a three-run homer as part of a four-run seventh inning. Martin Prado had a pair of hits and knocked in the other run and doesn't think his team is struggling down the stretch.

"Struggling ... I hate when the people say that. We had our first four-game losing streak this season, so I don't see that as struggling," said Prado. "We just had a couple bad days. I've got so much confidence in my team, and I know we're coming back. I have faith in everybody here."

That includes Lowe, who has lost two straight starts and seven of his last 10 decisions. His 9-14 record has him on the verge of matching the career-high 15 defeats he suffered in 2005 while with the Dodgers.

Lowe, who has 4.70 earned run average this season, has allowed nine runs in two starts this month after giving up just four and winning all five of his September starts a year ago. The 38-year-old righty dropped a decision to the Cardinals last time out on Saturday, yielding four runs on nine hits and two walks over six innings of work.

Lowe has faced the Mets twice this season, going 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA.

New York hopes to play spoiler tonight behind Chris Capuano, who put together a tremendous outing the last time he faced the Braves on Aug. 26. The veteran southpaw tossed a two-hit shutout on that day and set a new career high with 13 strikeouts.

"I think it has to be (one of the best starts of my career)," said Capuano, who is 3-3 with a 2.74 ERA versus the Braves lifetime. "I've had a couple of shutouts before, but this one at this point of the season and after a rocky last month and a half or so certainly feels like one of the best."

The 33-year-old also pitched well last time out against the Cubs on Saturday, but did not get a decision after the Mets were charged with four errors in a 5-4 loss. Capuano gave up two runs -- one earned -- over seven innings while striking out six.

He has won just once in his past eight starts, giving him a 10-12 record and 4.49 ERA on the season.

New York will be hoping to cool off their heated manager tonight after Terry Collins went off on his club following a 10-1 defeat to the Nationals. Washington swept the four-game set, giving the Mets a 1-8 mark on their completed homestand, one that featured 11 errors on the residency and just five runs in the last four games.

"You want to see me be intense, you guys are going to see it," an upset Collins said following the game. "I don't play that game. You come and play the game right. I don't care what the situation is, I don't care what the standings say, what the pitch counts are, I don't care about anything (but) playing the game correctly. That's what I care about."

New York has lost six straight games, one shy of its season-high seven-game slide endured from April 10-14.

The Mets have lost five of their last seven to the Braves, though the two clubs have split six encounters so far at Turner Field in 2011.