As the rest of baseball embarks upon interleague play this weekend, the Atlanta Braves are certainly happy to be participating in the majors' lone intraleague series.
Otherwise, they wouldn't get to keep facing the NL Central.The Braves' improbable seven-run rally in the ninth inning Thursday secured their eighth consecutive win against Central opponents, a streak they'll look to extend Friday night when they visit PNC Park for the first of three against the Pittsburgh Pirates.Atlanta (21-20) was a popular pick to contend for a playoff spot heading into Bobby Cox's last season in the dugout, but an 8-14 start and woeful offensive production had that possibility looking shaky toward the end of April.Since April 30, however, the Braves are 13-6, with a majority of those wins coming against the Central Division. Atlanta totaled 21 runs in a three-game sweep of Houston, 28 in winning three at Milwaukee, and held on for a 5-4 win against Cincinnati on Wednesday.The Braves' streak looked all but over Thursday afternoon, as the Reds scored eight second-inning runs. Cincinnati carried a 9-3 lead into the ninth but Atlanta wouldn't go away, capping its comeback with Brooks Conrad's pinch-hit grand slam for a remarkable 10-9 win.It was the Braves' third consecutive walk-off victory and sixth this season. This one just happened to be the largest ninth-inning comeback in franchise history."These guys have learned to play from behind," Chipper Jones told the team's official website. "One thing about this club, we haven't played well at times, we haven't played consistently at times, (but) we're not giving up. We play it to the bitter end."Atlanta improved to 8-6 in one-run games, but will be facing a team even better in close calls on Friday.The Pirates (18-23), however, are coming off a tight loss. Pittsburgh took a 3-0 first-inning lead Thursday against Milwaukee, but didn't score again in a 4-3 defeat that dropped it to 8-5 in one-run games."You think that after you get a three-spot in the first ..." first baseman Steve Pearce said. "We couldn't find a big hit."The Pirates are 9-5 against Atlanta over the past two seasons -- 5-2 at PNC Park -- and they'll try to continue that success by handing the ball to Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 3.00 ERA)Ohlendorf missed a month with back spasms, and pitched well in his second start back despite nothing to show for it. The right-hander gave up two runs and four hits over six innings Sunday at Chicago, but Pittsburgh's bullpen came up short in a 4-3 loss.Ohlendorf didn't get a decision in his lone start against the Braves, either. He allowed three runs over six innings in a 4-3 loss at Turner Field on June 9.The Pirates are hitting .225 over their last nine games, and they'll have their work cut out for them against Tim Hudson (4-1, 2.41). The only statistic that isn't impressive for the right-hander is his strikeout-to-walk ratio (23 to 19), but he's held opponents to a .219 average and yielded one run in three of his last four starts.Hudson lasted a season-high eight innings, allowing one run and three hits in a 13-1 rout of Arizona on Sunday."He could become an ace again," Cox said of Hudson, who hasn't allowed an earned run over 14 innings in his past two starts against Pittsburgh. "Looks like he is."