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Not-So Secret Weapon

The Atlanta Braves haven't swept a three-game series in Florida in more than a decade. But if they hope to do it this trip, they'll have to get past the Marlins' staff ace.

Dontrelle Willis looks to prevent the Braves from pulling off a second straight sweep Sunday when the NL East rivals wrap up their series.

The Braves' only previous three-game sweep in Florida came May 2-4, 1995.

They beat the Marlins 6-5 on Saturday to match their longest winning streak of the season with their fifth straight victory. Atlanta (43-38), which swept Washington in three games coming into this series, has not won six straight games since a seven-game run July 8-18 last season.

The Braves' current winning streak comes on the heels of a season-worst five game losing streak, during which they were outscored 27-1 and shut out four times.

"To come out here and win two, and hopefully three, tomorrow, it's definitely huge," outfielder Willie Harris, who matched a career high with three stolen bases and scored twice, told the Braves' official Web site.

But closing out the sweep won't be easy for Atlanta. Willis (7-7, 4.83 ERA), who is 6-4 with a 4.85 ERA in 16 career starts against the Braves, has won each of his last four starts against them, including two this season.

Willis went 0-4 with a 4.82 ERA in five June starts and has not won since a 9-4 win on May 29 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. However, his June ERA was more than half a run lower than his mark in April, when he went 5-1 in six starts.

"You've got to love the game for its faults," Willis, whose 6.73 runs of support ranks second in the NL, told the Marlins' Web site. "I feel like I've been throwing the ball good in June and not getting anything for it. That's the nature of the game sometimes."

Willis gave up three runs in seven innings of Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh. The start was his first since June 19, when he lasted only one inning because of tightness in his left forearm and gave up four runs against the Chicago White Sox.

"That might have been his best outing of the year," manager Fredi Gonzalez told the Marlins' site. "Or it was right up there. They got some soft singles in there and scored some runs, but he was outstanding."

Willis has struggled at home this season, going 2-5 with a 5.28 ERA in nine starts in Miami.

The Marlins (37-44) could use a strong start from their ace, as they have dropped six of their last seven games. Dan Uggla and Miguel Olivo homered Saturday for Florida, which scored three runs in the ninth, but couldn't complete the comeback.

The Marlins will be up against Atlanta starter Buddy Carlyle (2-2, 5.14), who gave up one run in seven innings of Tuesday's 6-2 win over Washington. He bounced back after lasting only 3 2-3 innings in his previous start on June 20 against Boston.

"A lot of teams wouldn't have given me a chance after a game like that, so I appreciate the confidence that (manager) Bobby (Cox) gave me the ball again," said Carlyle, who allowed seven runs in the 11-0 loss to the Red Sox.

The Braves have won four of Carlyle's last five starts, beginning with the right-hander's 3-1 win over the Marlins on June 5 in which he allowed one run in seven innings.

Carlyle's only other start against Florida came on Sept. 4, 1999 when he was with San Diego. He allowed five runs in 3 1-3 innings of a 6-4 loss in Miami.

by: Michael Cash - thespread.com – Email Us

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