NEW YORK—This weekend’s series with the Atlanta Braves for the Mets is, by far, the biggest to date. Of course being only three games out means this series won’t cost you a season, but it could take a bite out of your hopes.

With that in mind, coming off a series loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the Mets first home-series loss since May, the Mets will hope for more good things from their knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

After his first rough start as a Met on June 28 in Puerto Rico against the Marlins, Dickey knuckled down against the Nationals on Saturday, allowing two unearned runs thanks to a Ruben Tejada error, in seven innings.

The Mets would lose that game, 6-5, when Francisco Rodriguez blew a two-run, ninth inning lead. In that game, the Mets got to phenom Stephen Strasburg but it was all for naught. Without allowing an earned run in that outing, Dickey lowered his ERA from 2.98 to 2.62, he’s 6-1.

Opposing Dickey will be 23-year-old right-hander Tommy Hanson. Last season, Hanson had a fabulous rookie season with Atlanta, going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts.

This season, it’s been a little different for Hanson, as he’s pitched to a much higher ERA of 4.19, it was actually as high as 4.50 before his last start.

Things started to get shaky for Hanson in mid-May, as he had a weird game against the Diamondbacks on May 15. In that game, he went seven innings, he struck out 10 without walking a batter, but gave up five runs on seven hits in an 11-1 loss.

In his next start against the powerful Reds, he was involved in another strange game, but on the positive end. He gave up eight runs on eight hits in only 1.2 innings pitched, but the Braves rallied with a seven-run ninth to beat Cincinnati, 10-9.

On June 22 against the White Sox, he allowed nine runs on 13 hits in 3.2 innings pitched. Think about that: 3.2 innings, 13 hits. That’s not good. He followed that up with a bad performance as well.

The bottom line of all this is, the Mets have a shot. He’s hasn’t been the Tommy Hanson of his 2009 rookie season, and is capable of blowing up any start.

After plenty of speculation about a possible weekend return for Carlos Beltran, it isn’t happening. The Mets will, barring a setback, bring him back on Thursday against the Giants to open the second half of the season.

Jose Reyes didn’t look comfortable batting from the right side against a right-handed pitcher on Wednesday, so it’s not a given, if he still can’t bat from the left, that he’ll be in there tonight against the righty Hanson.

The Braves have had an unbelievably shocking campaign thus far, being the first team in the National League to 50 wins, and holding a three-game lead in the division this late into the season.

Their hitting isn’t really what carries them, it’s their spectacular one-through-five starting rotation which got Jair Jurrjens back last week.

The only thing the Mets or either team wants to guard against in this series is a sweep. All a series-loss would do is set you back one game. The Mets hope they can gain the one game if not more, and it begins tonight.

R.A. Dickey vs. Atlanta (career- 2 games, 0 starts)
0-0, 15.00 ERA, 3 IP, 5 hits, 3 BB, 4 SO

Tommy Hanson vs. New York (April 25)*
Loss, 5 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 5 hits, 2 BB, 8 SO

*Pitched five-inning complete game (game called due to rain)

2010 season series (New York vs. Atlanta)
April 23: New York 5, Atlanta 2
April 24: New York 3, Atlanta 1
*April 25: New York 1, Atlanta 0

May 17: New York 3, Atlanta 2
May 18: Atlanta 3, New York 2
Mets lead series 4-1

*Rain-shortened, five-inning game

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