Chipper Jones enjoys the fact that Interleague Play provides him the opportunity to play against different teams and in front of fans who don't get the regular opportunity to heckle him. But he certainly doesn't look forward to the challenge it presents he and his Braves teammates this year.

"It's going to factor into how the division shapes up," Jones said. "We play Boston six times. They have the best record in the American League. Plus we play the top three teams from the best division in all of baseball. We, without a doubt, have the toughest schedule in baseball, bar none."

The first three games against the American League East-leading Red Sox come this weekend at Fenway Park. When the Braves resume their Interleague schedule in June, awaiting them will be three-game sets against the Tigers, Twins and Indians, currently the top three teams in the American League Central.

And to top it all off, they'll also be challenged with three more games against the Red Sox, who enter this weekend's series ranked first in the American League in batting average and second in team ERA.

John Smoltz will oppose Daisuke Matsuzaka on Saturday afternoon. Tim Hudson was initially scheduled to go against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Sunday's series finale, but the Sox are going to hold Wakefield out for Monday's opener of a three-game series in the Bronx against the Yankees. The leading candidate for Sunday's start is left-hander Kason Gabbard.

"We've got Smoltzie and Huddy going, so that's a good thing for us," Andruw Jones said. "We'll see what happens. They've got a great lineup. But those guys are veteran pitchers and know how to handle great lineups."

The Braves enter this series limping, having lost three of four to the last-place Nationals this week in Washington. Still they are just 1 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East.

"There's a lot of guys struggling right now," Chipper Jones said. "Until we get back to normal, we're going to struggle to score runs. We're going to have to pitch really well to stay in games."

Hudson has been one of the NL's best starters this year, having carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning of five of his past nine starts. As for Smoltz, the dislocated pinky that he suffered in Monday night's sixth inning is the only thing that prevented him from entering this outing having completed at least seven innings in four straight starts.

Knowing the magnitude of the series, Smoltz made it known that he wasn't going to let his injured finger keep him from pitching. The only three runs he's allowed in 24 2/3 career innings against the Red Sox came during a seven-inning effort last year.

"I'm not going out there just to pitch," Smoltz said. "I'm going out there to face a tough lineup because I feel that I can get a tough lineup out."

Anthony Lerew is scheduled to make his third career start in Friday's opener for the Braves. The Red Sox were expected to announce Josh Beckett's replacement after Thursday's doubleheader against the Tigers.

The Braves, who are expected to use Matt Diaz as their designated hitter this weekend, have won 13 of the 18 Interleague games they've played at Fenway Park. They've also won 23 of the 39 games they've played against the Red Sox.

But during last year's disastrous six-win June, they were swept by the Red Sox in a three-game series at Turner Field.

Pitching matchup
ATL: RHP Anthony Lerew (0-1, 6.52 ERA)
Lerew be looking for his first career victory.

BOS: RHP Devern Hansack (0-0, 13.50 ERA)
The right-hander impressed the Red Sox in two late-season starts last year, going 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA. He's pitched just once for the Red Sox this season, and it came in relief. Hansack is 1-4 with a 3.89 ERA in four starts at Pawtucket.

Player to watch
Red Sox DH David Ortiz has hit .300 (9-for-30) with three career homers against the Braves.

Interleague by the numbers:
All-time club record in Interleague Play: 91-75
All-time record vs. Red Sox: 23-16
All-time club Interleague records: The Braves' 91 wins rank second all-time to the Marlins (96) in the National League. ... Chipper Jones' team-high six Interleague homers rank fifth all-time in the NL.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• TBS

On radio
• 640 WGST, 94.9 The Bull

Up next
• Saturday: Braves (John Smoltz, 5-2, 3.19) at Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 5-2, 4.17), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Braves (Tim Hudson, 5-1, 1.77) at Red Sox (TBA), 2:05 p.m. ET
• Monday: OFF