The Atlanta Braves led their division throughout the first half of the season, and they'll try and pad that lead beginning Friday when they begin a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Braves (54-41) got off to a 12-1 start and have not looked back, as the rest of the National League East stayed below .500 throughout most of the first half. However, Washington (48-47) and Philadelphia (48-48) have crept back into the picture of late, while Atlanta has played just over .500 ball since that hot start.
Recent injuries have played a role in sapping the team's momentum. However, the good news for the Braves is that Justin Upton (strained calf), Jason Heyward (strained hamstring) and Freddie Freeman (jammed thumb) could all return to the lineup on Friday.
"Right now, anybody that kind of flinches a little bit or grabs something, you start getting scared," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "The All-Star break, hopefully these four days, we get some guys healthy and start back against the White Sox, start going again.
"We lost a lot of key players, but the guys that stepped in did a terrific job for us."
None of the aforementioned Braves' trio played in Sunday's 8-4 loss to Cincinnati. Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons each supplied solo home runs, but it was simply not enough as the Reds salvaged a four-game split. The result also spoiled Atlanta's bid to win consecutive series for the first time since May.
Chicago (37-55) sits 14 games off the pace in the AL Central and currently owns the second-worst record in the American League. Manager Robin Ventura summed up his team's first half with two words: "not good."
"The record speaks for itself, nobody is happy," Ventura said prior to the break. "These will be a good four days for these guys. Just go home and do whatever they are going to do and then come back ready to go. You can go home and clear your mind."
Grabbing the pill for the White Sox is John Danks. The left-hander has yielded three earned runs or fewer in each of his last four starts, although he has only one win to his credit in that span. In his latest outing, Danks took a no-decision against the Phillies after giving up three runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings.
His counterpart, Tim Hudson, has given up more than three earned runs on only one occasion over his last eight starts. After a rough month of May (1-3, 7.33 ERA in five starts), the veteran right-hander has posted a 2.48 ERA since the start of June.
Hudson is coming off another fine outing against Cincinnati in his most recent start, as he lasted seven innings and allowed three earned runs.
"From the third or fourth inning on, I felt a lot more comfortable throwing some offspeed pitches for strikes," Hudson said. "Obviously when you get a lead, it's a lot easier to go up there and try to execute pitches and be more aggressive in the strike zone."
These teams last met in the 2010 season, when Chicago swept a three-game set at home.