After facing a pair of division leaders on the first two stops of their 10-game road trip, the Atlanta Braves get to face an opponent with a losing record in the San Diego Padres.
It may not be much of a reprieve.The Braves will go for their third straight win Monday night when they open a three-game series against the Padres, who look to win their eighth straight as they give the ball to top prospect Casey Kelly for his major league debut.Since taking three of four against San Diego earlier this month, Atlanta (73-55) has gone 0-2-1 in its last three series. After dropping two of three at NL East-leading Washington to begin their road trip, the Braves salvaged a four-game split at West leader San Francisco by winning the final two contests.Brian McCann went 3 for 4 in Sunday's 7-1 victory while Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Juan Francisco homered to back seven strong innings from Tim Hudson. Paul Janish added a two-run triple.Heyward has homered in three straight games and is batting .391 over his last 12 with five homers and 12 RBIs."It's good to salvage a series going down 0-2 against a team that's hot," McCann said after Atlanta scored seven runs for the second straight contest.While the Padres (59-70) are far from the top of a division, they're nonetheless the hottest team the Braves will have faced on their trip. San Diego returns home riding a seven-game winning streak after completing a three-game sweep of Arizona with a 5-4 victory Sunday.Edinson Volquez pitched seven effective innings, shortstop Everth Cabrera made a spectacular diving play in the eighth and the bottom five hitters in the San Diego order drove in four runs."When (seven wins in a row) happens, you are doing everything," manager Bud Black told the Padres' official website. "That's what winning streaks are all about. If one of those falters, you more than likely will lose a game or two."San Diego is averaging 5.7 runs and batting .329 during its seven-game run, its longest since winning eight in a row in 2010.The Padres will try to provide similar support for Kelly as he makes his major league debut.The key acquisition in the 2010 trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston, Kelly is healthy after missing nearly four months with a strained throwing elbow.The 22-year-old right-hander is 0-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three starts for Double-A San Antonio."There are Major League debuts across the landscape of our game, almost daily sometimes," Black said. "With Casey, it's a little different. He's more of a higher profile guy but I don't want to put too much weight on (Monday's) game just because it's unfair for a lot of reasons."Atlanta counters with Paul Maholm (11-8, 3.47), who is 2-2 with a 2.40 ERA in four starts for the Braves since they acquired him from the Chicago Cubs.The left-hander gave up four runs in seven innings of a 4-1 loss to Washington last Tuesday.Maholm is 1-4 with a 4.24 ERA in six starts against the Padres, but picked up his first win against them Aug. 15 after scattering one run and five hits over seven innings of a 6-1 win while striking out seven.
¿ What has been the biggest difference for Maholm? Simply put, his changeup has become a legitimately dominant weapon, where before it was very much run-of-the-mill - and he's using it more accordingly. As you can see in the heat map, he's staying down and away from the center of the plate much more effectively.
*3 hits allowed in 37 plate appearances ending in changeup
¿ After his start on June 23 - in which he gave up 7 runs in 3 1/3 IP - Paul Maholm was 4-6 with a 5.38 ERA, and the Cubs had lost 7 of his last 8 starts. Since that point, he's been among the best pitchers in baseball.