The two top teams in the National League East begin an important series on Tuesday as the New York Mets host the Atlanta Braves. The Mets have struggled this year against the Braves so this could be an interesting series. New York comes into the series with a 4.5 game lead over the second-place Braves. Mets home

The Braves have made some improvements while the Mets continue to wait for Carlos Beltran to return and for the possible return of Pedro Martinez later in the season. The Braves now have first baseman Mark Teixeira, who has three homers and seven RBIs in five games since being obtained from Texas and reliever Octavio Dotel, who they got from Kansas City. The Mets are only 3-6 against the Braves this season. "We haven't shown up to play them yet," closer Billy Wagner said. "And now they've got new players and they're a better team."

Bookmaker Current Line: Mets -151, Total 8.5 Over (-115)

The good news for New York is that Oliver Perez gets the start on Tuesday. He is 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in three starts against the Braves this year. Perez (10-7, 3.00 ERA) has pitched well throughout his career against Atlanta going 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA in nine starts. Perez is 3-1 with a 2.49 ERA in four starts since the All-Star break. He struck out a season-high 11, but gave up five runs in the Mets 8-5 victory over Milwaukee in his last start.

The Mets are coming off a 4-2 road trip while the Braves won their second straight over Colorado. This should be a very competitive series and an important one for the Braves "I'm not going to say we need to sweep," said third baseman Chipper Jones, "But we want to cut into that lead. Hopefully, we can play them like we did the first three series."

Buddy Carlyle (6-3, 4.20) is expected to start for Atlanta even though he left his last start with a hyperextended right elbow that he hurt on a swing. "It's kind of silly, taking too big of a swing at an off-speed pitch," Carlyle said. "It's going to be fine." Carlyle is 5-1 with a 2.95 ERA in seven starts since June 26. He has never faced the Mets. Center fielder Andruw Jones is expected to return Tuesday after taking a couple games off with a sore shoulder.

The Braves are 5-1 in their last 6 vs. the National League East. The Braves are 5-2 in their last 7 overall. The Braves are 4-10 in their last 14 games as an underdog. The Braves are 1-4 in their last 5 road games. The Braves are 1-5 in their last 6 road games vs. a left-handed starter. The Braves are 4-1 in Carlyle's last 5 starts. The Braves are 6-2 in the last 8 meetings between the two teams.

The Mets are 4-1 in their last 5 home games vs. a team with a winning record. The Mets are 4-1 in their last 5 home games vs. a right-handed starter. The Mets are 4-1 in their last 5 overall. The Mets are 10-4 in their last 14 series openers. The Mets are 12-5 in their last 17 games as a home favorite. The Mets are 26-12 in their last 38 home games vs. a team with a winning road record. The Mets are 2-6 in their last 8 Tuesday games. The Mets are 5-2 in Perez's last 7 starts vs. the National League East. The Mets are 1-4 in Perez's last 5 home starts. The Mets are 4-1 in Perez's last 5 starts vs. the Braves.

The Over is 4-0 in the Braves last 4 vs. the National League East. The Over is 4-0 in the Braves last 4 vs. a team with a winning record. The Over is 9-1 in the Braves last 10 series openers. The Over is 5-1 in the Braves last 6 games as a road underdog. The Over is 5-1 in the Braves last 6 games as an underdog. The Over is 26-8 in the Braves last 34 overall. The Over is 12-5 in the Braves last 17 road games. The Over is 9-4 in the Braves last 13 games vs. a left-handed starter. The Over is 4-1-1 in Carlyle's last 6 starts as an underdog.

The Over is 4-0-1 in the Mets last 5 overall. The Under is 4-1 in the Mets last 5 vs. the National League East. The Over is 4-1 in the Mets last 5 games vs. a right-handed starter. The Under is 11-5-1 in the Mets last 17 Tuesday games. The Under is 4-0-1 in Perez's last 5 starts vs. the National League East. The Under is 4-1 in Perez's last 5 starts as a home favorite. The Under is 5-2 in Perez's last 7 starts overall. The Under is 5-2 in Perez's last 7 starts vs. a team with a winning record.

Pick Mets -150 3 units out of 5