As they continue to zero in on their 14th straight division title, the Braves will give the ball to Smoltz when they open a weekend series against the NL’s top team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Smoltz has been the glue that has held together Atlanta’s injury-plagued rotation this season. The Braves own a 4 1/2 -game lead atop the NL East due in large part to Smoltz’s 8-0 record and 2.31 ERA over his last 10 starts.
The 38-year-old right-hander has pitched at least six innings in every start during that span, including tossing three complete games. Not too shabby for someone who is nine years removed from winning his only Cy Young Award.
The Braves are heading into this series after taking two of three from Cincinnati, including Thursday’s 7-4 victory. Andruw Jones hit his major league-leading 33rd homer of the season, and Jeff Francoeur and Rafael Furcal each drove in two runs to help rookie Kyle Davies improve to 4-1 in his last seven starts. Atlanta has won nine of 12 overall.
“It’s a good way to end the series,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “The game’s always in jeopardy here, no matter what the lead.”
The Cardinals are coming off a four-game split with Florida, including a 4-3 loss on Thursday.
Albert Pujols went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and is batting a team-high .341.
Mark Mulder will draw the difficult assignment of slowing down the Braves. The 27-year-old left-hander is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA over his last seven starts.