While the Atlanta Braves are on the verge of clinching their first division title in eight years, they're hoping to build some momentum heading into the playoffs.
The visiting Braves will try to avoid their 10th loss in 15 games as they look to wrap up the NL East crown against the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
Justin Upton and Dan Uggla homered to help Atlanta (90-62) snap a three-game losing streak with Wednesday's 5-2 victory over second-place Washington. The Braves can secure their first East title since 2005 - the last of 14 straight division crowns - with a win and a Nationals loss to Miami.
Following a prolonged slump that has kept the team from clinching earlier, Atlanta looks to build on a promising offensive rally against the Nationals. The Braves, averaging 3.0 runs while batting .202 during this 5-9 stretch, scored five times in the final four innings Wednesday.
"We've been struggling for a while here," said Upton, who hit three home runs to help Atlanta sweep a three-game home set from the Cubs in April. "At some point, we had to break out."
The Braves might have a difficult time continuing that effort considering the way Scott Baker (0-0, 0.82 ERA) has pitched in two starts since coming off the disabled list.
The right-hander has allowed five hits over 11 innings but has received two runs of support. Baker, who underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2012, allowed one run and three hits over six innings in a 2-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
"We're not out here for him to injure that thing or have a setback," manager Dale Sveum told MLB's official website. "It's just a matter of him getting on the mound and doing things for his own good, as well as the organization."
Baker seeks his first victory since July 23, 2011, while leading the Cubs to their first back-to-back wins since Sept. 9-10. Anthony Rizzo and Logan Watkins had three hits and Chicago hit three homers to end a five-game skid with Thursday's 5-1 win in Milwaukee.
Paul Maholm (10-10, 4.35) will try to end his recent road woes in his return to the rotation after the Braves skipped his spot to examine lingering elbow discomfort.
The left-hander has gone 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA in his last three starts overall, but he's 0-4 with a 7.66 ERA in his past five on the road.
Maholm might be able to end that slide at Wrigley Field, where he's 6-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his last 10 starts dating to his time with the Cubs in 2012. He hasn't faced Chicago since 2011 while with Pittsburgh.
Starlin Castro has fared well against Maholm with nine hits in 21 at_bats. He's also batting .375 during an eight-game home hitting streak versus the Braves.
Although Kevin Gregg pitched the ninth Thursday and is 32 for 37 in save opportunities, Sveum said he plans to use right-hander Pedro Strop in save situations for the remainder of the season. Strop was 0 for 3 in save opportunities with Baltimore before being acquired July 2.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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