Atlanta was 4 1/2 games off the NL East lead at the end of June, then went 18-8 to take a season-high five-game advantage over second-place Washington.
“We’re on a roll; we’re clicking,” said Marcus Giles, who leads the Braves with a .298 batting average.
Seeking its 14th straight division title, Atlanta is 6-0 on a homestand that ends with Monday’s finale of the four-game series against Pittsburgh.
“We’ve got two more months and we’ve got to keep winning,” said closer Chris Reitsma, who had two wins and eight saves in July.
Each team was involved in trades announced after Sunday’s game. The Braves acquired reliever Kyle Farnsworth from Detroit for pitcher Roman Colon and minor league pitcher Zach Miner, and the Pirates got outfielder Jody Gerut from the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Matt Lawton.
“From a personal standpoint, I hate to lose Roman; he’s got a great future ahead of him,” Giles said. “From a team standpoint, we need to make moves that can fit in like a piece in a puzzle. Kyle Farnsworth fits in a little better into our puzzle right now.”
The Pirates have lost five straight and have gone 14-31 since June 11, when they were 30-30.
“Until this stretch, we’ve actually been playing pretty good baseball,” Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We have to keep things in perspective.”
Pittsburgh is hoping rookie Zach Duke can help them avoid a sweep on Monday.
Duke is 3-0 with a microscopic 0.87 ERA in five career starts since making his major league debut on July 2. The talented southpaw gave up three earned runs in his first apperance, but has yielded just one unearned run in four starts since. The 22-year-old Duke has 27 strikeouts and nine walks in 31 innings.
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