On the verge of locking up the NL East, the Atlanta Braves would appear to have a good chance to clinch with Kris Medlen on the hill.
Looking to win a season-high fifth straight start, Medlen tries to help the visiting Braves secure their first division title in eight years Saturday against the Chicago Cubs.
Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman homered and drove in a combined five runs as Atlanta (91-62) trimmed its magic number to clinch the East to one with Friday's 9-5 victory. Andrelton Simmons added two RBIs for the Braves, who can also clinch if Washington loses to Miami.
"It's been a fun season," Friday's starter Paul Maholm said. "We started off real hot and built a big lead, we cooled off a bit, lost some people, but we were able to maintain that big lead. Hopefully, we'll go deep in the playoffs."
The Braves haven't won the division since 2005, their last of 11 consecutive first-place finishes.
"This might be the best group of guys in terms of resiliency," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "They battle. They're a talented group of guys - let's not forget that - but we've gone through some adversity at times, losing some key players earlier in the year and a leader on our pitching staff.
"It's a good group of guys; just a good team."
Medlen (14-12, 3.32 ERA) has been especially good of late, posting a 0.98 ERA during his four-start winning streak. The right-hander allowed four hits over 7 1-3 scoreless innings to beat San Diego 2-1 last Saturday.
"He knows how to pitch," Padres manager Bud Black told MLB's official website. "His fastball had action in the hitting area, he has a tremendous changeup. He's their guy. They're headed to the playoffs and I suspect that he will be their first-game pitcher."
Medlen, who went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts down the stretch in 2012, is 8-1 in his last nine starts.
"Whether I'm a second-half guy or whatever it is, I just feel like I've clicked," he said.
Medlen has gone 1-0 while throwing 7 2-3 scoreless innings of relief in five career appearances against the Cubs (64-90).
Loser in eight of 10 overall, Chicago has dropped five straight to Atlanta, including all four matchups this year by a 24-12 margin. Starlin Castro, Donnie Murphy and Dioner Navarro homered Friday before Kevin Gregg gave up four runs in the ninth inning.
Gregg, who was under the impression he had been removed from the closer's role in favor of Pedro Strop, may have played his final game in a Cubs uniform after expressing his frustrations to the media. He is 2-5 with 32 saves and a 3.45 ERA.
"Apparently Kevin misunderstood (manager) Dale (Sveum) and thought he'd had his job permanently taken away from him," Cubs president Theo Epstein said. "He apparently had some choice words. ... I told him that I'd sleep on it and let him know if he was released in the morning."
Starter Travis Wood (9-11, 3.05) will try to help the Cubs bounce back. The left-hander, who is 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his last four starts, allowed two runs in six innings but didn't receive a decision in Sunday's 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh.
Wood, who has never faced the Braves, is 0-4 with a 5.64 ERA in his last five outings at Wrigley Field.
Atlanta's Jason Heyward went 0 for 2 with a walk and a run Friday in his first game back since missing a month with a fractured jaw. He is 6 for his last 44 (.136) against the Cubs.
The Associated Press News Service
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