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AP - Sports

If the Atlanta Braves are to build on a strong finish to a successful homestand, they can't afford another disastrous road trip.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, meanwhile, hope a return to PNC Park - where they own the NL's best home record and have fared well against the Braves of late - will help them rebound from a rough trek of their own.

The Braves can record a fourth straight win by avoiding a ninth consecutive road defeat in the opener of a 10-game trip Monday night against the Pirates, who are in danger of dropping six in a row for the first time in two seasons.

With a 4-3 victory Sunday, Atlanta (64-60) swept a three-game set from reeling Oakland to conclude a 6-4 homestand. That followed an 0-8 trip where they totaled 18 runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego and Seattle.

After that strong weekend showing against one of baseball's top clubs, the Braves appear poised to avoid dropping nine straight road contests for the first time since a 10-game slide in 1996 and their sixth in eight at PNC, where they've totaled three runs in losing the last three.

The Braves are six games back of first-place Washington in the East, but along with Pittsburgh (64-60), they are 1 1/2 games out of the final wild-card spot.

"We know we're not out of this thing," first baseman Freddie Freeman told MLB's official website.

The Pirates are 39-24 at home, but scored 18 runs during a winless five-game trip that concluded with three straight one-run losses at Washington. Pittsburgh scored three times in the ninth Sunday to take a 5-4 lead, but lost 6-5 in 11 innings.

"You get to do this late in the season - we love our jobs," manager Clint Hurdle said.

"You've got to embrace the good - and the hard. We're gonna show up and play. We all know what's at stake. We're playing for something, and we'll keep pushing."

The Pirates could be in for a serious challenge as Ervin Santana (12-6, 3.66 ERA) faces them for the first time in the opener. The Atlanta right-hander allowed two runs and struck out nine in six innings of a 3-2 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday to improve to 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his last six starts.

Pittsburgh counters with Vance Worley (5-2, 2.51), who yielded three earned runs over 28 innings to go 3-0 in four starts prior to Wednesday when he gave up five - three earned - and nine hits in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-4 loss at Detroit.

"It's up to me to command the zone and make it mine," Worley said.

The right-hander hopes to avoid losing his third straight start to the Braves after allowing 12 runs, 16 hits and five walks in 7 1-3 innings in the last two over the previous two seasons while with Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Freeman and Jason Heyward are a combined 6 for 17 against Worley. However, Heyward went 1 for 11 at Pittsburgh last season and Freeman is 2 for 19 with six strikeouts in seven career games at PNC.

Pittsburgh's Travis Snider is batting .400 in the last eight games, but he is 1 for 10 versus Santana.

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