(Sports Network) - While the Chicago White Sox continue to move closer towards the top of the American League's Central Division, the Atlanta Braves' lead in the National League East has been shrinking over the past few days.
Atlanta will attempt to stop the bleeding and salvage the finale of its three- game interleague series with the scorching White Sox, who'll be taking aim at a ninth consecutive victory in this afternoon's clash at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Braves had won five in a row before dropping the first two tests of this set, most recently a 4-2 setback last night. With the red-hot New York Mets' victories over Detroit on Tuesday and Wednesday, Atlanta's advantage over second-place New York in the NL East has dwindled to a mere half-game.
Chicago, on the other hand, won for the 12th time in its last 13 tilts on Wednesday and now trails first-place Minnesota by only 3 1/2 games in the AL Central standings. The White Sox are just two back of Detroit for the division's runner-up spot.
"I used to hate walking into [the postgame news conference]. Now I can't wait to come here," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen after Wednesday's win. "A lot of people may be kind of shocked. I think we've got a good ballclub."
The White Sox are riding their first eight-game win streak since May 14-22, 2008 and haven't triumphed in nine consecutive contests since June 15-24, 2006.
Carlos Quentin led the way for Chicago in last night's win by homering twice and knocking in three runs, while Mark Buehrle threw six solid innings to improve to 23-6 all-time in interleague play. The steady left-hander scattered nine hits while allowing two runs on the evening.
Braves starter Tim Hudson (7-3) lasted seven innings, but gave up both of Quentin's homers and was reached for four runs to take the loss.
"He had great stuff," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Hudson. 'I really thought he was going to throw a shutout."
Melky Cabrera went 3-for-4 with an RBI single for Atlanta, which hasn't lost three straight since a season-worst nine-game slide from April 21-29.
Derek Lowe gets the call for the Braves in the finale and will be seeking to join Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez and St. Louis' Adam Wainwright as the NL's lone double-digit winners this season. The veteran hurler has compiled a 9-5 record as one of the anchors of the Atlanta rotation, and the team has prevailed in seven of his last 10 trips to the mound.
Lowe's latest victory came against Kansas City last Friday, with the sinker specialist permitting three runs over 6 1/3 innings to garner the 150th win of his career. He held Minnesota to two runs over 7 1/3 frames his previous time out, but did not get a decision in an eventual 3-2 Atlanta triumph June 12 in Minneapolis.
The 37-year-old has struggled at times on the road this season, however, having posted a 6.00 earned run average to go with a 3-3 record in seven away starts. Lowe is also just 1-3 in 23 lifetime meetings with the White Sox, all but six of which came in relief, and owns five saves against Chicago during a stint as the Boston Red Sox' closer earlier in his career.
Gavin Floyd will oppose Lowe this afternoon, with the Chicago right-hander out to put a frustrating five-start winless streak to an end. He's pitched very well in three straight outings without the results to show for it, including Friday's no-decision at Washington in which he yielded one run on four hits over eight innings while going head-to-head with Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg.
Prior to that start, Floyd limited the crosstown-rival Cubs to a run on three hits and struck out nine in eight innings June 13 at Wrigley Field, but wound up with a hard-luck 1-0 loss. Five days earlier, the former first-round pick fired six innings of one-run ball in a no-decision against Detroit at U.S. Cellular Field.
A 17-game winner for the White Sox two years ago, Floyd is just 2-7 with a 5.20 ERA in 14 starts so far this season.
The 27-year-old is 1-1 in five career appearances (four starts) against Atlanta, but has allowed 21 runs and walked 17 hitters in 19 innings over that span. All of those games came during Floyd's tenure with Philadelphia from 2004-06.
These teams last opposed one another back in 2004, with the White Sox taking two of three games from the Braves in Chicago.