Despite facing a four-game deficit in the NL East with six to play, the Atlanta Braves are still focused on a division crown.
A favorable schedule makes this somewhat far-fetched goal seem possible.
The Braves look to beat the New York Mets for the 11th time in 12 games in Friday night's opener at Turner Field.
Atlanta (91-65) secured at the very least the league's top wild-card spot with Thursday's 6-2 victory over Miami. This gives the Braves, winners of five in a row and 10 of 12, home-field advantage for the wild-card game, but they still have their sights set on unseating Washington atop the division.
"We're playing good baseball right now, doing what we need to do," Dan Uggla told the Braves' official website. "We've got six games left, so we've just got to keep taking care of business and keep going the direction we're going."
Compiling a few more wins certainly seems likely for Atlanta, which also has won five straight over the Mets at Turner Field. The Braves complete their season with three games at scuffling Pittsburgh.
The Nationals, meanwhile, have three road games against a St. Louis team still trying to clinch the league's second wild card and three at home versus Philadelphia.
Freddie Freeman has been instrumental to Atlanta's success against the Mets, batting .333 with four homers, five doubles and 17 RBIs in the season series. In five games in Atlanta, he's hitting .526 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.
Although the Mets (72-84) are winding up a fourth straight losing season, they arrive in Georgia winners of six of seven - rolling past the foundering Marlins and Pirates. New York, which defeated Pittsburgh 6-5 on Thursday, had won one of its previous 12 games.
Prior to the opener, Chipper Jones , who is retiring after this season, will be honored by the Braves.
Despite Atlanta's success against New York, Jones is batting .167 in the season series, and is 2 for 18 against scheduled starter Jonathon Niese (12-9, 3.49 ERA) since 2010.
Jason Heyward , however, is 7 for 17 with two homers and two doubles lifetime against the left-hander, who gave up three runs and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings in Friday's 7-3 victory over Miami.
In seven starts since Aug. 12, Niese has a 2.51 ERA but a modest 4-3 record. He's received just three total runs of support in those defeats.
He has a 1.29 ERA in his two starts against the Braves over this stretch, and is 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in his last seven games in the series.
Atlanta counters with Tim Hudson (16-6, 3.61), who could be making his final start before the playoffs.
Although Hudson leads the team in wins, he has been extremely inconsistent in his 10 outings since the start of August. He has a 0.26 ERA in winning five, but is 1-2 with a 7.67 ERA in the other five.
After back-to-back subpar outings, the right-hander was sharp Sunday in Philadelphia, permitting an unearned run and two hits in 7 1-3 innings in a 2-1 victory.
"I am just trying to get my pitches a little more crisp and my arm slots where I want them to be," he told the Braves' official website. "(Sunday) was a great step in that direction."
Hudson struggled in his lone start against the Mets on July 13, yielding four runs and eight hits in four innings of a game Atlanta won 7-5.
New York's David Wright , who is batting .421 with three homers and nine RBIs during a five-game hitting streak, is a career .231 hitter against Hudson.
|New York Mets|
|September 25, 2012||Robert Carson||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left triceps|
|September 12, 2012||Ronny Cedeno||Day-to-Day||Left game - tight right hamstring|
|September 07, 2012||Andres Torres||Day-to-Day||Left knee bruise|
|August 18, 2012||Johan Santana||15-Day DL||Lower back inflammation|
|August 15, 2012||Rob Johnson||60-Day DL||Torn ligament, left thumb|
|August 02, 2012||Tim Byrdak||60-Day DL||Sore left shoulder|
|September 18, 2012||Paul Janish||Day-to-Day||Shoulder|
|September 15, 2012||Brian McCann||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hamstring tendinitis|
|August 25, 2012||Ben Sheets||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|August 25, 2012||Ben Sheets||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|August 10, 2012||Chipper Jones||Day-to-Day||Back tightness|
|August 01, 2012||Jair Jurrjens||15-Day DL||Strained right groin|
ATLANTA (AP) -- Lucas Duda and Jonathon Niese stole some of the spotlight on Chipper Jones ' big night.
Duda's three-run homer in the seventh inning gave New York the lead, Niese pitched seven strong innings for his third straight win and the Mets beat Tim Hudson and the Braves 3-1 on Friday night.
Niese outpitched Hudson on a special night. A sellout crowd of 51,910 packed Turner Field for a pregame tribute to Jones.
Niese wasn't distracted.
"It was a special night for Chip," Niese said. "It couldn't go to a more deserving guy. He plays the game the right way. All the respect, all the accolades are deserved.
"It's always an honor to be able to face a player like that, a future Hall of Famer. To do it tonight in front of all those people was pretty special."
Niese (13-9) allowed one run and four hits in seven innings for his third straight win.
"When I walk off the mound and our team has a chance to win, then that's satisfaction," Niese said.
The Braves, who have wrapped up at least a wild-card berth, wasted an opportunity to gain ground in the NL East. Atlanta remained four games behind the first-place Nationals, who lost 12-2 to St. Louis.
"You feel like when Huddy gives you the performance he gave you that you have a chance, but we didn't score runs," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Jones, starting his final regular-season home series before retiring, was 0 for 4 with four groundouts. Jones was honored by the Braves in a pregame ceremony that included former Atlanta manager Bobby Cox and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron .
Jones said the tribute, which included video messages from former teammates and such celebrities as Michael Jordan between innings, was overwhelming.
"I think I had a tear planted in the corner of my eye pretty much the whole night," Jones said.
"It was a little overwhelming, too overwhelming. ... There's no real way to prepare that that."
Jones said he hopes the focus returns to baseball for the last two games of the series.
"Everybody showed me such a great day," Jones said. "I wish I had played better. I wish we had played better.
"I'm glad it's over. ... I just want to concentrate on baseball. All the attention needs to take a backseat so we can focus on the job at hand."
Freddie Freeman gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead with his 23rd homer in the fourth.
Bobby Parnell pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save.
Hudson (16-7) gave up only three hits in six scoreless innings before Daniel Murphy led off the seventh with a double to left field. Murphy advanced to third when Jason Heyward made a diving catch on David Wright 's sinking liner in right.
Following an intentional walk to Ike Davis , Hudson struck out Scott Hairston before giving up Duda's 15th homer on a 3-2 pitch.
"His credentials are unbelievable," Duda said of Hudson. "I'm happy to do anything I can.
"I was kind of nervous, two strikes. I just tried to make contact, get the ball up and it went out of the park."
Hudson allowed three runs, five hits and one walk in seven innings.
"It's frustrating. One pitch pretty much put a damper on my night," Hudson said.
"I didn't make a very good pitch right then. I felt it was the one bad pitch of the at-bat. You have to tip your cap to him."
The Mets loaded the bases with one out in the eighth against Cristhian Martinez . Cory Gearrin ended the inning on Wright's grounder to Jones, who stepped on third base before throwing to first for the double play.
In the pregame ceremony, Aaron gave Jones a third base with the words " Chipper Jones 1993-2012." The special bases with the tribute to Jones were used in the game. The on-deck circles also carried the logo, and Jones' No. 10 was painted in the grass in center field.
Braves players gave Jones a pool table. The team gave Jones and his family a trip to Hawaii and a plaque made from Turner Field bricks and shaped like home plate. Team president John Schuerholz announced Jones' clubhouse locker will be moved to Jones' home.
New York's Ruben Tejada hit the game's first pitch to Jones, who had a wide grin after making the pickup - with a slight bobble - and then throwing out the shortstop.
Before the at-bat, Jones said he warned Hudson he was "an emotional wreck." He asked Hudson to "keep the ball away from me."
Instead, Jones was immediately tested.
"That was probably the most nervous I've been on a baseball field in a long time," he said.
NOTES: The attendance was Atlanta's largest of the season and the seventh-biggest in Turner Field history. ... Mets manager Terry Collins said Parnell will serve as closer in the final week of the season. Frank Francisco (elbow tendinitis) leads the team with 23 saves but has not pitched since Sept. 16. ... Braves C Brian McCann (sore right knee, sore right shoulder) was held out for the second straight day. ... Gonzalez said CF Michael Bourn (slightly sprained left thumb) could return Saturday or Sunday after missing his fifth straight start. ... The series continues on Saturday night when Braves LHP Mike Minor (10-10) faces Mets RHP Chris Young (4-8).