Pirates-Braves Preview

Since Francisco Liriano was hit hard by the Atlanta Braves last month, he's been especially stingy.

Looking to continue their playoff push, Liriano and the Pittsburgh Pirates open a season-ending seven-game road trip Monday night in Atlanta.

Pittsburgh (84-71) climbed 4 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee for the second wild-card spot after taking two of three from the Brewers over the weekend. Russell Martin provided all the offense with an RBI single in the seventh inning in Sunday's 1-0 victory, the Pirates' 13th in 16 games.

"They're a good team, they're playing well," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of the Pirates. "You don't expect them to not play well here the last (seven) games."

Pittsburgh, which still trails St. Louis for the NL Central lead, finished 51-30 at home - its best mark there since 1992.

"It's a blue-collar team," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a Pittsburgh team."

The Pirates now turn to Liriano (6-10, 3.45 ERA), who was tagged for a season-high nine runs and 10 hits over four-plus innings in an 11-3 defeat to Atlanta on Aug. 19. However, the left-hander has posted a 0.82 ERA over his last five starts, striking out 36 over 33 innings and holding opponents to a .170 average.

Liriano issued five walks Wednesday but managed to limit the damage, yielding one run and three hits over six innings in a 9-1 victory over Boston.

"It was a battle for me today, just trying to execute pitches, make good pitches," he said after winning his third consecutive outing. "I got a couple little plays and just a tough night location-wise but I'll take it."

Liriano struck out 11 over eight innings of one-run ball in his only other appearance against the Braves, a 2-1 win with Minnesota on June 11, 2010. B.J. Upton is 7 for 20 with three doubles in their matchups.

The slumping Braves (76-79) were eliminated from the playoff race with the Pirates' win and also swept by the New York Mets in a three-game series after Sunday's 10-2 loss. Atlanta has been outscored 56-26 while losing 11 of 13.

Freddie Freeman is 2 for his last 17 and Justin Upton is batting .133 in 17 games this month.

"It's tough because we haven't been playing well lately," losing pitcher Ervin Santana told MLB's official website. "We have our confidence up, but at the same time, you have to throw a complete game shutout or something like that to get a win. It's pretty tough."

The Braves have failed to provide Aaron Harang (11-11, 3.68) with any support in four of his last five starts, during which he's gone 1-4 with a 4.71 ERA. The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings while striking out eight in Tuesday's 3-0 defeat to Washington.

Harang's 16 wins against the Pirates are his most against any team. He gave up three runs over a season-high 8 1-3 innings in an 11-3 win at Pittsburgh on Aug. 19.

Martin is 8 for 17 with two doubles in their matchups and Starling Marte is 4 for 9. Martin is batting .356 with three homers, four doubles and 15 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak.

Pittsburgh, which has dropped 10 of its last 14 at Turner Field, heads to Cincinnati after this four-game set.

"Those are meaningful games for the Pirates," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We need to come out and battle and give the teams that are behind them an opportunity to get in. That's how I look at these last four games at home."


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