Braves turn to Hudson in opener with Marlins

Veteran right-hander Tim Hudson can maintain a nearly insurmountable lead in the National League playoff race Monday for the Atlanta Braves as they visit Marlins Park for the first of a three-game series with the Miami Marlins.

Atlanta enters the series in possession of the top wild card spot in the league and holds a seven-game edge over defending World Series-champion St. Louis and an eight-game edge over Los Angeles, who are vying for the No. 2 spot.

The Braves trail the first-place Washington Nationals by 5 1/2 games in the NL's East Division race.

Miami is last in the East, 24 1/2 games behind Washington and 19 behind the Braves.

Hudson, a 37-year-old Georgia native, has gone 6-2 in his last 10 starts, though the most recent outing was a 5-0 loss at Milwaukee on Sept. 11.

He was a 17-game winner for the Braves in 2010 and won 16 times last season, then got to 14 this year with seven innings of scoreless six-hit ball in a 1-0 defeat of Colorado on Sept. 6.

He's pitched at least seven innings in four of the last 10 starts, in which the Braves are 7-3.

Hudson has permitted a .248 opposition batting average in 2012, exactly the same as his career number.

For the Marlins, lefty Wade LeBlanc makes his third career start against the Braves while still searching for his first win.

The 28-year-old last faced them on Aug. 1 in Atlanta and got a no-decision after allowing a run on five hits in 4 1/3 innings of a 4-2 Miami win.

He's 0-2 against the Braves in four appearances - two starts - while allowing five runs on 13 hits in 13 innings with eight strikeouts.

LeBlanc's last win came Aug. 17 in Colorado, when he allowed nine hits and five runs in five innings of a 6-5 triumph.

On Sunday in Atlanta, Mike Minor tossed six quality innings and the Braves knocked out Gio Gonzalez early to finish off a three-game sweep of the division-leading Nationals with a 5-1 victory.

The sweep was Atlanta's first of Washington since September 2009.

Minor (9-10) allowed just one run on five hits and two walks for the Braves, who had lost three straight entering the series.

Dan Uggla knocked in a pair, while Michael Bourn singled, walked twice and scored two runs on a rainy day at Turner Field.

"We're still 5 1/2 games back, but we all know anything can happen in this game. It's definitely a step in the right direction," Uggla said.

In Miami, Ryan Ludwick knocked in the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th inning, lifting the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-4 victory over the Marlins to avoid a three-game sweep.

Gregg Dobbs clubbed a two-run triple and Jose Reyes added an RBI double, but the Marlins fell for the fourth time in their last six games.

Atlanta won nine of the first 12 games between the teams this season, including three of four at Turner Field from July 30-Aug. 2. The Braves won last year's season series, 12 games to six.