Braves carry slim NL East title hopes into Pittsburgh

It's still a possibility for the Atlanta Braves to capture a National League East crown, but they will need some help in the final stages of the regular season.

The Braves will take on the Pittsburgh Pirates Monday in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park and are three games behind the Washington Nationals in the division standings. The Nationals, though, can win the division tonight with a victory over Philadelphia or a loss by the Braves.

Atlanta leads the wild card and has won seven of eight games. It took two out of three from the New York Mets over the weekend and recorded a 6-2 triumph on Sunday behind another solid start by Kris Medlen. The Braves set a record by winning 23 straight starts by Medlen, who allowed one unearned run in six innings.

"I think the best part about it is that my name is in the history books, but it's a team thing, they are team wins," said Medlen. "Guys go out and battle for me because they know I'm going to go out and throw strikes and try and execute my pitches. It's been a fun ride and I don't think we're done."

Medlen broke the record set 49 years ago by Whitey Ford of the New York Yankees. Craig Kimbrel registered his 42nd save by getting the last out of the game.

David Ross hit a three-run home run to back Medlen.

Paul Maholm gets the nod for the Braves tonight and he is 4-4 with a 3.65 earned run average in 10 starts with Atlanta. The left-hander threw 6 2/3 shutout innings in a 3-0 win over Miami last Wednesday and struck out six batters. Maholm is a former Pirate and owns a 1-0 mark with a 2.08 ERA in two career starts against his old club.

Pittsburgh has dropped four of five games and lost a three-game series to the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend. In Sunday's 4-3 setback, Joel Hanrahan gave up the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning to absorb the loss.

Wandy Rodriguez hurled six innings of two-run ball and struck out seven batters, while Garrett Jones homered for the Pirates, who haven't had a winning record since 1992.

Pittsburgh was 63-47 on Aug. 6, but has gone just 14-35 since.

"One of my goals when I got here was to re-bond this city with this baseball team and to be a group of men who do that collectively. So it's definitely disappointing, especially when we were able to get to a certain point of the year where we were talking playoffs," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Jeff Locke draws the start for the Buccos tonight and he is 0-3 with a 6.35 ERA in seven games, five starts. He previously took the mound in last Wednesday's 6-0 loss to the Mets and was reached for five runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 frames.

Locke, a left-hander, has never faced the Braves.

Pittsburgh and Atlanta split a four-game set from April 27-30 at Turner Field.