While they've already wrapped up a spot in the postseason, the Atlanta Braves are still holding out hope for a bigger prize.
The Braves will try to bolster their faint NL East title hopes Monday night by taking advantage of a visit to the stumbling Pittsburgh Pirates.
Atlanta (93-66) is rolling into its second postseason appearance in three years having won 12 of 15, but will likely have to settle for being the NL's top wild card. The Braves are three games behind Washington in the division with three to play and the Nationals can clinch Monday with a home win against Philadelphia or an Atlanta loss.
Atlanta will try to stay alive in the race by sending Pittsburgh (77-82) to its 19th loss in 24 games. The Pirates, who were tied for first in the NL Central on July 18 and were 13 games above .500 on Aug. 17, guaranteed themselves a 20th consecutive losing season with a 4-3 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.
They extended their North American major professional sports record by giving up two runs in the ninth.
"Everyone's pretty ticked off about it," first baseman Garrett Jones said. "It's unfortunate, where we were halfway through the season and how good we were playing and where we were headed, to have it kind of fall apart. Nobody saw it coming."
In the opener of the season's final series, Pittsburgh will face former Pirate Paul Maholm (13-10, 3.71 ERA), who is coming off a strong outing against Miami on Wednesday. He gave up five hits over 6 2-3 innings and struck out six in that 3-0 victory, his first in three starts.
"I tried to do as much as I could to try to treat it like a playoff game," Maholm said.
The left-hander will next try for his second win in three starts against the Pirates, the team he played for from 2005-11. In the most recent of those matchups July 24, he gave up one run over eight innings in a 5-1 win for the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh counters with Jeff Locke (0-3, 6.35), who is still seeking his first major league victory. The left-hander, who has dropped six decisions over two seasons, gave up five runs and a career-high nine hits over just 3 2-3 innings of a 6-0 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday.
The Pirates are 1-8 in his nine career starts and winless in five this season.
"All the great pitchers who know how to win also knew how to lose," Locke told the team's official website. "My main goal when I go out there is to have put my team in a position to win when I leave. Lately, it hasn't gone that way when I've been on the mound."
Locke is facing the Braves for the first time.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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