Gaining confidence with each win, the Atlanta Braves find themselves in a familiar position—atop the NL East.
Atlanta looks to increase its slim divisional lead when they meet the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night to start a three-game weekend series.
The Braves (22-12) closed out a lengthy homestand Thursday with their third win in a row. Kelly Johnson hit a two-out, bases-loaded double in the sixth inning of a 5-3 victory over San Diego.
Atlanta went 7-3 on the homestand and leads the New York by one-half game in the East.
“We have a lot of confidence,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “I don’t know if it’s swagger and all that. But we’re off to a good start, real good. This is a fun team.”
That swagger has helped the Braves score a major league-leading 88 runs with two outs - more than half their overall production - and has them in position to match their season-high four-game winning streak from April 7-11.
“I don’t think there’s any real secret to it,” Johnson said. “We’ve got guys who know how to bear down. It’s someone new every night.”
Atlanta hopes Kyle Davies (0-1, 6.41 ERA) can build off a strong outing Sunday. The right-hander threw 62 of his 103 pitches for strikes, while yielding four runs and six hits over 6 2-3 innings of a 6-4 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“That was his best start of the year,” Cox told the Braves’ official Web site.
Davies is 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA in two career starts against the Pirates, but has not faced them since his rookie season of 2005.
Pittsburgh (15-18) hopes Zach Duke (1-3, 5.50) can regain some confidence after losing his third consecutive decision Saturday in a 6-3 loss at Milwaukee.
The left-hander lasted five innings, surrendering three runs - one earned - and six hits.
“I was doing what I usually do - moving the ball around, changing speeds pretty well and locating,” Duke told the Pirates’ official Web site. “It’s a tough loss for me to swallow because I felt in control.”
That control apparently has been lacking early as Duke has given up 12 runs in the first inning of his last five starts. He is 1-1 against with a 2.35 ERA in two career starts versus Atlanta.
The Pirates return home after taking two of three from the Chicago Cubs including a 6-4 win on Thursday.
Jason Bay went 2-for-4 with a solo home run and a two-run double. The All-Star left fielder has struggled at home against the Braves with a .250 batting average and no homers in 13 games. He has some success against Davies, going 2-for-6 with a homer and three RBIs.
The Pirates split the six-game season series with the Braves in 2006 with each team winning two of three on the road.
The Braves hope to have shortstop Edgar Renteria back in the lineup after missing three of the last four games with the flu. He’s batting .370 (27-for-73) during a 16-game hitting streak