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Mets Open Series With Atlanta, Hope To Gain Ground

(Sports Network) - Citi Field has provided a distinct home advantage for the New York Mets this season, an edge the team will attempt to use in a critical three-game series with the National League East-leading Atlanta Braves that starts up tonight.

New York enters this evening's showdown three games behind the Braves for the division's top spot, but has had the upper hand in head-to-head meetings between the rivals held earlier this season. The Mets are 4-1 against Atlanta thus far in 2010, with three of those wins coming in a series sweep at Citi Field from April 23-25.

The Mets have been equally as tough at home for opposing teams all year long, having compiled an excellent 29-14 record as the host, and had won six straight series at Citi Field before dropping two of three bouts to NL Central front-runner Cincinnati earlier in the week.

The venue has also been good to R.A. Dickey, who'll be taking the ball for New York in tonight's opener. The journeyman knuckleballer has won all three of his home starts this year, while allowing a mere three runs in a span of 20 1/3 innings over that impressive stretch.

Dickey has had his share of success on the road as well during his surprising season. Signed by the Mets as a minor-league free agent over the winter, the 35-year-old has gone 6-1 with a 2.62 earned run average in nine starts since being brought up from Triple A in mid-May and given up only two home runs in a combined 58 1/3 innings of work.

In his most recent appearance, Dickey held Washington to two unearned runs over seven innings in a matchup with phenom Stephen Strasburg last Saturday. He left the contest with a 5-2 lead, but was denied a potential win when the Mets' bullpen faltered late.

Dickey will be making his first career start against Atlanta, but has surrendered five runs over three innings in two prior relief appearances versus the Braves.

Atlanta counters with Tommy Hanson, who bounced back strongly from back-to- back dreadful performances by delivering a gem in his last start. The talented young hurler limited Florida to one unearned run and struck out eight over 6 2/3 sharp innings on Saturday, which upped his season record to 8-5 and reduced his ERA to 4.19.

Hanson had been bombed for six runs (five earned) and eight hits in just 3 2/3 innings in a loss to Detroit on June 27, five days after permitting nine runs and 13 hits in another ugly 3 2/3-inning stint against the Chicago White Sox.

The right-hander did pitch well against the Mets at Citi Field back in April, yielding one unearned run and racking up eight strikeouts in what turned out to be a rain-shortened five-inning complete-game loss. Hanson did beat New York last September by firing seven shutout innings in a game held in Atlanta.

The Braves head to the Big Apple off a successful showing in Philadelphia, where the current division leaders took two of three games from the two-time defending NL champion Phillies. In Wednesday's rubber match, Atlanta took the lead with a six-run seventh inning and held on for a 7-5 decision.

Brian McCann's three-run double gave the Braves a 5-3 advantage and Matt Diaz followed with a homer to extend the margin to four runs. Martin Prado homered earlier during the big inning, a solo shot with one out that was the All-Star second baseman's second round-tripper of the night.

The uprising made a winner out of starter Kris Medlen (6-1), who allowed four runs on seven hits before being lifted with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Billy Wagner closed out the contest and picked up his 19th save after retiring the side in order in the ninth.

"There's so much baseball left to play, but we're extremely happy to take a series from the Phillies," Medlen said afterward.

Atlanta increased its lead over both the Mets and the third-place Phillies after New York's 3-1 loss to the Reds on Wednesday. Cincinnati's Chris Heisey snapped a 1-1 deadlock with a solo homer in the seventh inning, with Brandon Phillips tacking on an insurance run later in the frame with an RBI double.

Jonathan Niese (6-3) pitched well for the Mets in defeat, with the young lefty being touched for three runs on six hits and striking out six Reds in 7 2/3 innings. However, a first-inning solo homer by Angel Pagan was the only run New York could muster in eight innings against Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo.

"I wanted to go after them [Wednesday]," said Niese. "Unfortunately we got the loss. I made a couple of mistakes."

Despite losing all three clashes with the Mets in Flushing earlier this year, the Braves did post a 7-2 record during the debut season of Citi Field in 2009.