Strasburg faces slumping Braves

Slumping Atlanta got a little bit of help during its off day on Thursday, but likely won't get any from Stephen Strasburg and a streaking Washington club that is coming off a sweep of the National League East champions.

Perhaps noted Nationals killer Tim Hudson can be the difference for the Braves tonight in the opener of a three-game series which could decide the club's playoff fate.

Atlanta was shut out by Florida, 4-0, on Wednesday for its eighth loss in 12 games that cut into its lead over St. Louis and San Francisco for the wild card position. However, both the Cardinals and Giants lost on Thursday, giving the Braves a two-game lead over St. Louis for the final playoff spot. San Francisco is four games off the pace.

"We still got everybody in the rearview mirror. We just have to take care of business," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said following Wednesday's loss that saw Derek Lowe fall to 0-4 in September after allowing three runs over 6 1/3 innings.

Hudson will look to get Atlanta back into the win column after ending a personal two-game slide with a 1-0 win over the Mets on Saturday. After yielding 10 runs in 12 innings over his skid, Hudson tossed eight scoreless innings of four-hit ball, walking two and striking out 10.

The right-hander moved to 15-10 with a 3.19 earned run average in 31 starts this year. That includes a 3-1 mark and 2.16 ERA in four starts versus Washington.

Hudson, 36, most recently beat them on Sept. 1 with six innings of one-run ball, giving him a 13-3 career mark against the franchise with a 1.95 ERA in 22 starts.

Hudson will face off against returning 23-year-old phenom Strasburg, who will make his fourth start in the majors since coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Strasburg has yet to post a decision over his first three outings despite allowing just two runs over 14 innings. He pitched a season-high six innings versus the Marlins on Saturday, getting charged with one run on four hits without a walk.

The 23-year-old righty has faced the Braves just one other time and took a loss opposite Hudson on June 28 of last year, yielding three earned runs over 6 1/3 frames with seven strikeouts.

Strasburg will be aiming to play spoiler tonight by pitching the Nationals to a sixth straight victory. Washington wrapped up a four-game sweep of Philadelphia on Thursday with a 6-1 win, getting a three-run homer from Michael Morse and 5 2/3 scoreless innings by Brad Peacock in his second career start.

Peacock allowed just one hit and walked two to earn his second win.

"I thought he was outstanding," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. "The young man handled the pressure very well."

Roger Bernadina went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI for the Nationals, winners in 11 of their last 14 games.

Atlanta owns a slim 8-7 lead over Washington in the season series, with the clubs splitting six meetings so far at Nationals Park.