Two teams with playoff dreams open the second half of the season in San Diego on Friday in a game that matches two pitchers whom many of those hopes rest upon.
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (2-2, 3.60 ERA) makes his fifth start for the Atlanta Braves, while Padres right-hander Dinelson Lamet (0-1, 5.40 ERA) makes his second major league start since Tommy John surgery in April of 2018.
The Braves open the second half with a 54-37 record and a six-game lead in the National League East. Atlanta is 5 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for the best record in the NL.
The Padres ended the first half with three straight road wins against the Dodgers, an unexpected surge that boosted San Diego back to .500 at 45-45 and sparked wild-card hopes.
With 72 games to go, this series is much more important to the Padres because it is at home. To make a playoff push, San Diego has to improve on its first-half mark of 23-24 at Petco Park.
"We were streaky in the first half," Padres manager Andy Green said. "We need to be more consistent."
The 31-year-old Keuchel signed with the Braves for $13 million in June. The former Cy Young Award winner has allowed 11 runs (10 earned) on 26 hits and six walks with 12 strikeouts in 25 innings.
"I feel like I'm in midseason form," Keuchel said after his most recent start. "It took a few starts to build up. I knew it would take a few, but I think I'm there. Mentally, at first it was just trying to get locked in."
Said Braves manager Brian Snitker: "When he takes the ball, he wants to give it back only when the 27th out is recorded."
Keuchel has faced the Padres twice before and is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA and a .132 opponents' batting average -- allowing two runs on seven hits and four walks with seven strikeouts in 14 innings. The win came in his only start at Petco Park in 2015, when he gave up a run on three hits and no walks with four strikeouts over eight innings.
Lamet is also 1-0 against the Braves at Petco Park. His only meeting against Atlanta came in 2017 when he allowed four hits and a walk with eight strikeouts in seven innings.
Lamet, who turns 27 next week, finished his rehab from elbow surgery with an uptick in his fastball velocity. He was throwing in the 96-99 mph range on July 4 at Dodger Stadium, where he gave up three runs on three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in five innings.
At the moment, Lamet is basically a fastball-slider power pitcher.
"The curve and change were developing in the spring of 2018 before he got hurt," Green said of Lamet. "They'll become a weapon again."
--Field Level Media