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ATL@CIN: Santana fans seven Reds in dominant outing

The Marlins have not had a winning season since 2009, and they've finished last in the National League East three straight years.

With a recent track record of losing, it is a refreshing change of pace that Miami heads into Turner Field this weekend playing meaningful games.

If the Marlins are to make up ground, though, now is the time. Three straight games with the second-place Braves beginning Friday night will be telling if the club is to remain within striking distance of the NL Wild Card, which they trail by 5 1/2 games.

Atlanta, meanwhile, resides six games behind Washington in the NL East but is 1 1/2 out in the Wild Card race.

"We've been talking about it for a few weeks; they're all big," manager Mike Redmond said. "Now we're there. We've got to win. That's a good situation to be in. Put a little pressure on these guys. It's fun as a manager to see how guys respond and see who responds. That's good. From where we were last year to this year, playing in some pressure games, that's what it's all about."

Miami's Tom Koehler draws the starting assignment for the series opener at Turner Field. The right-hander has been solid, posting a 9-9 record with a 3.82 ERA.

In three starts against the Braves this season, Koehler is 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA. He will put that success to the test opposite Ervin Santana, who is enjoying a terrific second half.

Santana is 6-1 with a 2.75 ERA and a .249 opponents batting average despite a BABIP of .319 in eight starts since the All-Star break, including a tough-luck loss after giving up only one run in seven innings against the Reds on Saturday.

"We didn't support Ervin very much, but he went out and gave us seven strong innings, and you can't ask for much more than that," said Justin Upton, referring to Atlanta scoring three runs or fewer in six of Santana's past seven starts.

Marlins: Taking care of business in division
The Marlins have 30 games to go, and 26 of them are within the NL East. So if they're going to make up ground on the Braves and Nationals, they've got their chances.

Miami plays six of its next nine vs. Atlanta, with this weekend's series in Atlanta and next weekend's series at Marlins Park.

"You know you've got your work cut out for you," Redmond said. "The last month of the season is probably exactly how it should be. You're playing the teams you are the most familiar with, and you've got to win. You've got to beat your division counterparts. We'll have our work cut out for us, but that's what it's all about."

Braves: Club hoping to bury fellow Wild Card contender
As the Braves compete to grab one of the NL's two Wild Card spots for the second time in three seasons, they face a worthy adversary in the upstart Marlins, who remain a player in postseason contention. Atlanta is 6-7 against Miami this year.

"We can separate ourselves. When teams are chasing us, these are the games that count, especially in your division. These guys are trying to catch and leapfrog us," Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. "If we come out and play well, we can push them back and then maybe not have to worry about them anymore. Obviously, they're right there in the picture. If we can win three games and push them three games back, it will get us momentum and it keeps us away from a team that is chasing us."

Worth noting
• Garrett Jones, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Jarrod Saltalamacchia each have two home runs against the Braves this season.

• Freddie Freeman is batting .059 (3-for-51) with a double, a homer, five walks, 17 strikeouts and a .143 on-base percentage against the Marlins in 2014.

• Jones has had a strong season against Atlanta pitching, batting .333 (14-for-42). Comments