MLB Insiders: Atlanta Braves

Jeff Locke

The Pirates close out the season with a three-game series with Atlanta starting on Monday night at PNC Park. Lefty Jeff Locke will get the start for the Bucs. The Braves will counter with lefty Paul Maholm.

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.

The Braves kept Washington from celebrating Sunday with a 6-2 win over the New York Mets in Chipper Jones' final regular-season game at Turner Field.

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.

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.

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.

Locke is facing the Braves for the first time.

The Braves' 6-2 win over the Mets on Sunday was the 23rd straight win for the team when right-hander Kris Medlen has started, a major-league record. That's why he has been tapped to start next Friday's wild-card game.

A year ago, as the Braves' season was slipping away, rookie right-hander Craig Kimbrel took the mound in the ninth inning to preserve a 3-2 lead over the Phillies. He gave up a leadoff single and walked three. The Phillies won 4-3 in 13 innings and the Braves were toast.

In the stunned clubhouse afterward, third baseman Chipper Jones said, "It's probably my fault. I should have calmed him down. I thought about it, but then I thought, 'No, he can handle it.'"

"My mind was rushing," Kimbrel said. "Things started moving too fast. My head started moving too fast. My brain. I didn't put it together. It was just too late when I felt like I could."

With this season's hopes now resting on Medlen in next Friday's wild-card game, Jones isn't wondering whether he'll need to deliver the pep talk he wishes he'd given last year.

"He's got poise," Jones said. "He won't be overwhelmed by the situation."

Indeed. Medlen -- "just riding the wave" -- is more confident than ever because as a starter he has more opportunities to craft strategies for opponents' at-bats. He has the pitches to mix in, and his arm feels good, both with the speed of his pitches and his trust in them.

While discussing these things the other day, Medlen reached into his locker and whipped out the latest sonogram of his son, who's due to arrive in early February.

"He has my calves," Medlen said, beaming at the string of black and white images. And you know what? He does.

Notes, Quotes

RHP Kris Medlen established a major-league record with his six innings of three-hit work Sunday vs. the Mets. The Braves have won Medlen's last 23 starts, passing the 22-game mark of the Yankees' Whitely Ford (1950-53) and the Giants Carl Hubbell (1936-37).

C David Ross' three-run home run in the second inning was his ninth homer of the season and the second in his last three starts. It's his highest home run total since he hit 17 with the Reds in 2007.

3B Chipper Jones says he hadn't been as nervous as he was taking the field after Friday's tribute since he made his major-league debut. So nervous, in fact, that he kidded RHP Tim Hudson not to let the first ball come to him, which of course it did. Jones bobbled it slightly but made the throw across the field for the first out of the game. He said he couldn't even feel his arms and legs. Emotionally drained, not to mention hurting; he hadn't had a hit since he doubled to lead off the ninth in the Braves playoff-clinching game on Tuesday until he singled in the third, passing Roberto Alomar to take sole passion of 57th place on the all-time hits list with 2,725. Jones is fifth on the all-time hits list by switch-hitters, passing Alomar there as well.

CF Michael Bourn returned to the lineup for the first time since jamming his left thumb sliding into second base Sept. 22 in Philadelphia. He went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run and an RBI and stole his 40th base.

LHP Eric O'Flaherty's back stiffened up Friday, making him unavailable over the weekend. This is a chronic issue he can manage his way through. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he hopes to give O'Flaherty a little work against the Pirates on Tuesday or Wednesday, ahead of Friday's wild card game.

By The Numbers: 4—Pitchers in Atlanta history (since 1966) to have a four-strikeout inning after RHP Craig Kimbrel did it in the ninth inning Wednesday vs. the Marlins. The others are Phil Niekro (1977), Paul Assenmacher (1989) and Mark Wohlers (1995).

Quote To Note: "When it's over, that big gust of wind you feel will be me exhaling." —3B Chipper Jones on gutting it out through his final games. Recommended Stories

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