Braves try to distance themselves from Giants in wild card race

As the Braves continue to slip further behind in the race for the National League East crown, it is starting to look like the path to the club's second straight postseason may be by way of the wild card.

A series victory this week by the contending San Francisco Giants in this upcoming four-game set could alter those plans.

Very much alive in the NL West, the Giants aim to close the gap between themselves and the wild-card leading Braves in tonight's opener at Turner Field that will serve as a second rematch of last season's NL Division Series.

Atlanta has lost back-to-back outings on the heels of five straight wins and has dropped nine games behind first-place Philadelphia in the NL East. It does currently hold the wild card position, owning a four-game lead over San Francisco.

The Braves will try to prevent the Giants from getting any closer and have won their last five regular-season games against the Bay Area residents, including a three-game sweep at San Francisco back in late April, but the Giants did eliminate the Braves in last year's opening round of the postseason.

San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner became the youngest player in franchise history to win a postseason game when he beat the Braves in Game 4 of last year's NLDS to clinch the set, but was roughed up by Atlanta in rematch on April 22. He'll hope for better luck tonight in this opener.

Bumgarner hurled six innings of two-run ball at the age of 21 years and 71 days to top the Braves in October, but lasted only 2 2/3 innings at home in April. He was charged with four runs -- three earned -- on four hits and two walks before his exit.

The left-hander matched his win total from a season ago with a victory over the Pirates on Tuesday. Bumgarner struck out 10 over seven scoreless innings, scattering four hits and a walk in a 6-0 win to snap a two-start slide and win for the fourth time in six decisions. That gave him a 7-11 record on the season with a 3.53 earned run average and the young hurler has struck out 38 over his past five outings.

The Giants will hope to keep swinging a hot bat this evening after belting four homers in Sunday's 5-2 triumph over the Marlins. The first, a long ball off the bat of Cody Ross in the third inning, snapped San Francisco's major- league record of 21 consecutive solo homers.

Ross' homer was the first with a man on base since Nate Schierholtz hit a two- run shot back on July 6. Schierholtz then started a new streak with his solo homer in the fourth and rookie Brandon Belt added a pair of solo long balls later on.

"It was nice to see those guys swing the bats like that today," said winning starter Ryan Vogelsong. "It's been a little rough for our offense lately and it's good to see them battle and get on the backside of a couple balls."

With consecutive wins, the Giants won their first series since taking two of three from the Phillies on July 26-28. They are just 5-11 since that set and remained two games behind the first-place Diamondbacks in the NL West.

Ramon Ramirez posted the save on Sunday with closer Brian Wilson sidelined due to back spasms, while Carlos Beltran missed his sixth game in a row because of a strained right wrist and a stint on the disabled list remains possible for the outfielder.

The Braves also saw a lengthy streak come to an end on Sunday as Dan Uggla's 33-game hitting streak was halted in a 6-5 loss to the Cubs. Uggla, who hit .377 over a run that began on July 5, went 0-for-3 with a sac fly and was robbed of a possible bloop single in the fifth inning by Darwin Barney.

"The streak is one thing," said Uggla, "but I'm more disappointed with the loss. Everybody battled. They just happened to come out on top. It was a fun run, but all things gotta come to an end sometime."

Uggla's hitting streak is the longest in the franchise's history since moving to Atlanta, surpassing Rico Carty's 31-game streak set in 1970. The second baseman did fall four games short of Tommy Holmes' all-time Braves record set back in 1945 while the club was located in Boston.

Braves righty Tim Hudson seeks a fourth straight winning start in tonight's game and has pitched to a 1.69 ERA over his win streak.

Hudson has gone at least seven innings in each of his past seven starts, including Wednesday in Florida as he yielded two runs on six hits over 7 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and has lost just once in his last 10 outings, improving to 12-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 24 starts this season.

The 36-year-old did not factor into a Game 3 loss to the Giants in last year's playoffs even tough he allowed just one unearned run over seven innings. He was able to carry that success over into an April 23 victory at San Francisco, giving up two runs on nine hits without a walk while falling one out shy of a complete game.

Hudson is 6-4 lifetime against the Giants in 24 starts with a 3.43 ERA.