The surging Atlanta Braves, owners of the best record in the majors, look to continue an outstanding road trip when they visit the Cincinnati Reds for the opener of a three-game series at Great American Ball Park.
The Braves have won six of seven on their 10-game trip, and they are 27-5 over their last 32 games overall.
Atlanta, which boasts a big league best .284 team batting average, is coming off a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres.
“All in all, we’ve really been hitting the ball, for the last month and a half, really hard.” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
While stars like Chipper Jones and Gary Sheffield have been doing their part, Atlanta is also enjoying a strong season from second baseman Marcus Giles, who is batting .338 with six homers and 27 RBIs.
Giles was especially hot against the Padres, going 8-for-17 with three doubles, a homer and seven RBIs.
“I definitely didn’t try to change anything,” said Giles, who grew up in San Diego. “The balls I hit happened to be in a good area. You can definitely hit the ball good all day, but there are nine people out there defending you. Just luck mixed with some decent at-bats, I guess.”
The Reds also boast a potent offense, with a league-leading 69 home runs. Cincinnati, which has homered in 13 straight games, posted a 6-3 victory over Milwaukee on Sunday to avoid a sweep in its three-game set with the Brewers.
Cincinnati outfielder Austin Kearns was the catalyst Sunday, hitting an RBI single in the 10th inning to seal the win. Kearns is riding a career-high 13-game hitting streak, and comes in batting .301 with 13 homers and a team-high 37 RBIs.
“I’m impressed with Kearns,” Cincinnati manager Bob Boone said. “He’s mature beyond his years. He rarely makes a mistake. I’m pretty much impressed with everything he does.”
The series with Atlanta begins a six-game homestand for the Reds, who host the Florida Marlins over the weekend.
STANDINGS: Braves - 1st place, NL East. Reds - 4th place, 3 GB, NL Central.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTER: Greg Maddux (3-5, 4.85 ERA). Maddux suffered a 5-1 loss to Los Angeles on Wednesday, giving up four runs in six innings. The veteran right-hander allowed seven hits walked three. Maddux is 16-12 with a 3.08 ERA lifetime against the Reds.
REDS PROBABLE STARTER: Danny Graves (3-2, 4.56 ERA). Graves is coming off his best start of the season, a 4-0 win over St. Louis on Wednesday. The right-hander notched the first complete game of his career, allowing just four hits and one walk. Graves, who was a reliever until this season, has never started a game against the Braves. He has four saves and a 1.69 ERA in 16 career innings against Atlanta.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Braves - Sheffield, .361 avg.; Sheffield and Andruw Jones, 10 HRs; Andruw Jones, 40 RBIs; Rafael Furcal, 43 runs and 9 SBs. Reds - Jose Guillen, .324 avg.; Adam Dunn, 16 HRs; Kearns, 37 RBIs; Aaron Boone, 32 runs and 7 SBs.
2002 SEASON SERIES: Braves, 4-2.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Braves - 2B Giles has hit safely in seven of his last eight games. … 3B Vinny Castilla was 6-for-9 with three homers and five RBIs over the last two games. … The Braves are 24-0 when leading after eight innings. Reds - Cincinnati last homered in 13 consecutive games from May 7-22, 1999. … 3B Aaron Boone hit two homers Sunday for his third multi-homer game of the season. He has 20 RBIs in 17 games this month. … With OF Dunn (16), 3B Boone (13), and OF Kearns (13), the Reds have three of the top five home run hitters in the NL.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Braves - 16-6 on the road; Reds - 13-9 at home.