The Atlanta Braves have had sole possession of the NL East lead for more than three months. They may need to play well against the major league-worst Pittsburgh Pirates for that to continue.
With their lead down to one game, the Braves look to rebound from a rough series as they begin a three-game set at PNC Park on Monday.Atlanta (79-58), which has held the outright division lead since beating Philadelphia on May 31, lost two of three at Florida over the weekend to allow the Phillies to creep closer. Since taking a season-high seven-game lead July 22, the Braves are 23-19, while Philadelphia has gone 29-13.The Braves could have padded their lead Sunday as the Phillies lost to Milwaukee, but Atlanta fell 7-6 in 10 innings after tying the game with five sixth-inning runs."A loss is a loss," catcher Brian McCann told the Braves' official web site.Atlanta will try to stay in control in the East as it faces a Pittsburgh team it has beaten five times in six meetings this season. Tommy Hanson (9-10, 3.60 ERA), looking to win consecutive starts for the first time since May 31-June 5, will try to get the Braves off to a strong start to the series.The right-hander had been 0-5 since his last victory July 3, posting a 3.08 ERA over an 11-start span but receiving 14 runs of support, before finally getting back in the win column Wednesday. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball to beat New York 4-1."At the end of the day, it's always fun to see the 'W' beside your name," said Hanson, who will face the Pirates for the first time.Pittsburgh (45-91) continues its six-game homestand with Brian Burres (2-3, 6.21) taking the mound. The left-hander replaces Jeff Karstens, who was scratched for the second time in less than a week due to arm and shoulder fatigue."(Karstens' shoulder) just doesn't feel right," manager John Russell told the Pirates' official web site. "It's been a long year for him, and it's a little cranky."Burres makes his first start since yielding four runs in a 6-3 loss at Atlanta on May 29. That was his final appearance prior to a June 4 demotion to Triple-A Indianapolis.Burres has struggled in four innings of relief since being called up Aug. 25, giving up six runs and nine hits.Braves right fielder Jason Heyward has gone 2 for 3 with a double and a homer against Burres. Heyward is batting .476 with two homers and six RBIs versus Pittsburgh.McCann has never faced Burres, but he is hitting .340 with four homers and 11 RBIs versus left-handers since the All-Star break.Pirates second baseman Neil Walker looks to extend his hitting streak to 13 after going 3 for 5 on Sunday. He is batting .415 with four homers and 14 RBIs during that stretch.Braves second baseman Martin Prado also has a hitting streak going, batting .323 during a seven-game run. Prado, though, went 1 for 12 with three strikeouts as the Braves won two of three in their last visit to PNC Park from May 21-23.Atlanta has won eight of 11 versus Pittsburgh.