(Sports Network) - Cincinnati ace Mat Latos takes the mound for the Reds Thursday when they visit the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in the opener of a crucial four-game series.
The Reds enter the series in third place in the National League Central, trailing the scorching hot St. Louis Cardinals and the recently sliding Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Braves, meanwhile, are the frontrunners in the NL East, where they have a comfortable lead over the defending division champion Washington Nationals and the third-place Philadelphia Phillies, who've struggled to reach .500.
Latos, who won 14 games in his initial season with the Reds last season, got to eight wins this year in his 18th start when he scattered four runs on six hits in six innings against Seattle, striking out 11 batters in six innings.
It was the second time in three starts that Latos reached double digits in strikeouts, following up a 13-K performance in a 4-2 victory at Arizona on June 23.
The former draft pick of the San Diego Padres has faced the Braves six times in his career, winning three of five decisions while posting a stingy 2.45 earned run average across 36 2/3 innings of work, striking out 30 batters.
Latos is 4-1 in his last 10 starts, of which the Reds have won six times.
Atlanta counters with veteran right-hander Tim Hudson, who appears for the 425th time in his career and makes his eighth start against the Reds.
The Georgia native, who'll turn 38 on Sunday, is 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 49 1/3 career innings against Cincinnati with 37 strikeouts.
Hudson, who's won just once in his last 10 starts, allowed five hits and a run in his last appearance while defeating Philadelphia, 13-4, on July 6.
In his previous nine outings, Hudson had gone 0-5 with four no-decisions while trimming his ERA from 5.12 to 4.22.
The Braves are 5-5 in his last 10 games.
On Wednesday in Milwaukee, Brandon Phillips drove in three runs to lead the Reds to a 6-2 win over the Brewers to avoid a three-game sweep at Miller Park.
Phillips went 2-for-5 and started off the scoring in the first inning when he knocked in Shin-Soo Choo on a line drive single to left field. Choo also had a solid day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a double and three runs scored.
Mike Leake (8-4) earned the win for the Reds after pitching 8 1/3 strong innings. The right-hander gave up two runs on three hits with four walks and two strikeouts. Leake did not allow a baserunner after the fifth inning.
"It wasn't the best game I've pitched. They put some pressure on me, they made me work, but I definitely made some pitches when I needed to. It would've been a graveyard in here if we didn't pull this one out," said Leake.
All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman recorded the final two outs of the game to solidify the win for Cincinnati.
In Miami, Placido Polanco went 3-for-5 with three RBI and Jacob Turner spun seven strong innings to lead the Marlins to a 6-2 win over the Braves.
Chris Johnson went 2-for-4 with an RBI and Dan Uggla drove in a run for the Braves, who lost for the second time in five games.
Paul Maholm (9-8) was tagged for four runs on seven hits and five walks over 4 1/3 innings to absorb the loss.
The Braves won two out of three in a series with the Reds in early May in Cincinnati, outscoring the hosts, 18-11. The Reds won five of six games between the teams in 2012.