Lowe and Lee on Labor Day

Both the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves seem destined for the postseason, though Atlanta isn’t giving up hope of catching Philadelphia in the NL East.

Facing baseball’s hottest pitcher may make that task a bit more difficult.

Cliff Lee seeks to win his seventh straight start when the division rivals begin a three-game series Monday night in Philadelphia.

Most offshore sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product opened the Phils as hefty $2.00 home favorites, with the total set at seven ‘over’  (minus $1.20).

The Phillies (88-48) enter this series with the majors’ best record and a 7 1/2-game lead over the Braves (82-57), who are in firm control of the NL wild-card race with an 8 1/2 game edge on St. Louis.

The clubs face each other six more times, including a three-game set in Atlanta to close the season Sept. 26-28.

“Obviously, the chances of us catching them is difficult, but there’s still a chance,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez told the team’s official website. “We want to go in there and try to win every game. For us, all these series are big, in my mind anyway.”

The Braves’ comeback quest continues against Lee (15-7, 2.59 ERA), who looks to win seven consecutive starts for the first time since winning eight straight July 16-Aug. 24, 2009 – a stretch which included his first five outings with the Phillies after being acquired in a trade with Cleveland.

Atlanta ended that run, but it may be even more difficult to accomplish this time around. Lee hasn’t allowed a run in his last 20 2-3 innings after giving up six hits in 8 2-3 innings of a 3-0 win over Cincinnati on Wednesday.

The left-hander has a 1.14 ERA and 50 strikeouts over his last six outings and hasn’t lost since July 25.

Lee has struggled against Atlanta, going 0-3 in his last five starts, but he pitched well in the most recent outing July 9, when he didn’t earn a decision after allowing one run and three hits in eight innings.

Both teams enter this series in a bit of a slump.

The Phillies have lost two straight after a 5-4, 14-inning loss to Florida on Sunday. Ryan Howard drove in two runs, but Hunter Pence had an RBI double – and possibly a two-run homer – overturned in the sixth when umpires reviewed the replay and called Pence out due to fan interference.

Philadelphia played the remainder of the game under protest, but now hopes to avoid its first three-game skid since dropping four straight May 31-June 4.

Atlanta avoided its own three-game losing streak with a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, when Martin Prado’s RBI single in the bottom of the ninth drove in the winning run.

“It was big for us not to go into Philly having lost three straight,” said Chipper Jones, a .333 lifetime hitter in 15 at-bats against Lee. “One of the biggest wins of the year, I’ll tell you.”

Atlanta will send Derek Lowe (9-12, 4.52) to the mound Monday.

Lowe is 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA over his last three starts after allowing one run in six innings of Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over Washington.

The right-handed sinkerballer looks to carry over that momentum into September, a month in which he’s gone 7-1 with a 3.20 ERA since joining the Braves prior to the 2009 season.

Lowe is 1-2 but has a 2.84 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this season, receiving four runs of support in 19 innings.

Chase Utley is hitting .394 (13 for 33) with two homers and three doubles lifetime off Lowe.

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