The San Diego Padres are looking to win two straight division titles for the first time in their history. The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, are a long shot to extend one of the longest division-title streaks in any major sport.
Holding onto a slim lead in the tightly contested NL West, the Padres resume play after the All-Star break looking to extend a five-game winning streak when they face the Braves at Petco Park on Friday.
After capturing the division title despite finishing 82-80 last season, San Diego (48-40) holds a slim lead in the tightly bunched NL West, in which a handful of games separate the five teams.
The Padres will look to solidify their lead as they try to win six in a row for the first time since a nine-game run from April 30-May 8.
Chris Young (8-4, 3.12 ERA) faces the Braves for the first time since suffering through his worst start of the season May 24, when he lasted a season-low three innings and gave up a season-high six runs and eight hits in a 10-6 loss. He is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two career starts against Atlanta.
Young, though, leads San Diego’s starters in wins and ERA this season. The right-hander won his last start, allowing two runs and striking out nine in six innings of a 5-2 win over Washington on Saturday.
Mike Piazza’s pinch-hit home run in the ninth capped San Diego’s rally in Sunday’s 10-9 victory over the Nationals. The Padres overcame a 7-1 deficit with four runs in the sixth, one in the eighth and four in the ninth.
Piazza has tweaked his batting stance, and it seems to have paid off as his batting average has risen from .256 to .290 since May 31.
“We definitely know we can improve offensively,” Piazza said. “We feel like we can swing the bats better and get more guys on base in certain situations; that’s a given.”
San Diego has won with strong pitching and defense, leading the National League with a 3.91 ERA and fewest errors committed (42).
“Our defense seems to make highlight-reel plays every time I’m out there,” said Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who has a 1.03 ERA and 24 saves.
Hoffman, though, blew the save for the National League in the All-Star game Tuesday night, allowing two runs in the ninth inning of a 3-2 loss.
Atlanta’s unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles is in serious danger of ending, as the Braves trail the first-place New York Mets by 13 games in the NL East. At 40-49, the Braves are under .500 at the break for the first time since 1991, when they were 39-40. That team rallied with a strong second half to begin its string of division championships.
A 7-3 homestand before the break lifted the Braves’ hopes that they can still contend for a playoff spot. Atlanta’s homestand, which included series wins over Baltimore, St. Louis and Cincinnati, pulled it to within striking distance of Los Angeles for the wild card.
“We’ve played extremely hard the first half,” Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. “We’re just got to play more consistently, pitch and hit more consistently.”
Tim Hudson (6-8, 4.56), struggling through what has been his worst season, will try to earn a win for the first time since June 10. The right-hander has lost four straight decisions and has a 6.97 ERA in his last five starts.
Hudson gave up four runs in eight innings of an 8-7 victory over the Reds in his last outing July 6. He yielded four runs in 6 2-3 innings but did not factor in the decision in a 5-4 win over the Padres on April 14. Hudson is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in three career starts against San Diego.
The Padres took two of three from the Braves in the teams’ first meeting.