Padres-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

The Atlanta Braves own the league's best record, and are closing in on the NL East title.

A series at Turner Field against one of baseball's worst road teams could help them clinch it this weekend.

The Braves look to capitalize on a matchup with the San Diego Padres when the series gets underway Friday night.

Atlanta (88-58) leads the division by 11 games on second-place Washington with 16 to play, giving the team a magic number of six to clinch the East.

The Braves may have a chance to secure their first division crown since 2005 in Sunday's finale if they can sweep San Diego (66-79) combined with the Nationals losing all three games versus Philadelphia.

After hosting the Padres, Atlanta visits Washington for a three-game set starting Monday.

"We want to win the next three at home and then go into Washington and have some fun there," first baseman Freddie Freeman,

Freeman is helping the Braves pull closer to a trip to the postseason. He had three hits, including a two-run homer, in Thursday's 6-1 win at Miami, and was 7 for 16 with five runs while Atlanta took three of four from the last-place team in the East.

"You've got to battle every day," said Freeman, who is two RBIs shy of reaching the century mark for the first time. "It's September and everybody is tired, but we're going out there and playing hard still."

The Braves have certainly done that at home, winning 20 of 25 since the All-Star break. They've also won 13 of the past 19 home matchups with the Padres, but they were swept in a three-game series at San Diego from June 10-12.

Freeman is 9 for 26 (.346) with five RBIs in seven home meetings with the Padres, and he's 3 for 5 with a homer and double versus scheduled starter Ian Kennedy (6-9, 4.86).

The Braves are expected to give David Hale his major league debut in the absence of Paul Maholm, who is out with a sore elbow.

Hale grew up a Braves fan in nearby Marietta, and was a third-round pick out of Princeton in the 2009 draft.

"I've thought about it plenty," Hale said. "I don't think it will compare to what it will actually be. It's crazy to think I was 4 or 5 years old going to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium watching these guys play. It's going to be cool to be a part of it."

He was 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA in 22 games at Triple-A Gwinnett.

The Padres have dropped 10 of 13 on the road, and the pitching staff has a 5.58 ERA. Their pitchers were pounded again Thursday, giving up 14 hits in a 10-5 loss at Philadelphia.

Kennedy is 3-1 with a 3.76 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 40 2-3 innings over seven starts since being acquired in a trade with Arizona before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.

San Diego has won each of his last two outings, while he's allowed two earned runs with 14 strikeouts in 11 innings.

Kennedy is 2-0 with a 3.64 ERA in five career starts versus the Braves, but has a 5.79 ERA with seven walks over 9 1-3 innings in two meetings this season.

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