A sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals last month was the launching point for the Atlanta Braves ' lengthy winning streak.
Now, the Cardinals will look to take advantage of a depleted Braves lineup in the opener of a four-game set Thursday night in St. Louis.
The Braves (77-49) started their 14-game run - the majors' longest in 11 seasons - by taking three in a row at home over St. Louis from July 26-28, limiting the Cardinals to three runs and 14 hits. They've cooled off somewhat, winning six of their last 10, but will be without Jason Heyward and possibly Justin Upton on Thursday.
Heyward is expected to miss four to six weeks with a broken jaw after being hit by a pitch in a 4-1, 10-inning road victory over the Mets on Wednesday. He recorded a 1.005 OPS with 15 RBIs in 23 games since being moving to the leadoff spot July 27, and the Braves are 19-4 during that stretch.
Upton missed his second straight game since straining his upper back while taking swings prior to Tuesday's 5-3 loss, though he said he thinks he will be ready to face St. Louis (73-53). Upton is batting .377 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs in his last 17 games.
Atlanta remains the lone team to knock off the Cardinals with Thursday's scheduled starter Joe Kelly (4-3, 3.01 ERA) on the mound since St. Louis added him to the rotation over a month ago.
Kelly is 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA in seven starts since July 6. He threw 6 1-3 scoreless innings while allowing seven hits in a 2-0 loss at Atlanta on July 27.
The right-hander matched a season high with six strikeouts his last time out, yielding four hits over six innings of a 4-0 road win over the Cubs on Saturday.
"He's stepped up and really taken advantage of it," manager Mike Matheny said. "You can tell he can't wait to get the ball."
Atlanta will activate left-hander Paul Maholm (9-9, 4.41) from the disabled list for his first start since July 20 due to a bruised wrist. Maholm has been much worse on the road, going 4-7 with a 6.03 ERA in 13 outings compared to a 1.93 ERA in seven starts at Turner Field.
St. Louis might not be the ideal opponent for him to return against, as he's 0-3 with a 6.18 ERA in his last five matchups.
The series will feature the top two contenders for the NL batting title in Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and Braves third baseman Chris Johnson , who are both hitting .332. Molina is 10 for 27 in six games since returning from a sprained knee, though he was 0 for 4 in an 8-6 win in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Johnson, who was 7 for 10 in these teams' first series, hit a three-run homer in the top of the 10th on Wednesday.
Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig homered in a six-run second inning for the Cardinals on Wednesday. Beltran, Craig, Matt Holliday , David Freese and Matt Carpenter combined to go 5 for 50 against Atlanta last month.
Beltran is 9 for 24 with two homers and two doubles off Maholm, while Craig is 6 for 14 with three doubles.
The Cardinals have lost eight of nine regular-season meetings with the Braves.
|August 20, 2013||Justin Upton||Day-to-Day||Strained upper back|
|August 15, 2013||Tyler Pastornicky||15-Day DL||Torn left ACL - out for season|
|August 13, 2013||Dan Uggla||15-Day DL||Eye surgery|
|August 06, 2013||Jason Heyward||Day-to-Day||Strained neck|
|July 29, 2013||Reed Johnson||15-Day DL||Left knee tendinitis|
|July 26, 2013||Gerald Laird||15-Day DL||Kidney stone|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|August 15, 2013||Tony Cruz||15-Day DL||Stress fracture, left forearm|
|August 11, 2013||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Right foot contusion|
|August 07, 2013||Shelby Miller||Day-to-Day||Right elbow contusion|
|July 31, 2013||Shane Robinson||15-Day DL||Strained right shoulder|
|July 31, 2013||Yadier Molina||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|July 31, 2013||Yadier Molina||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Joe Kelly had to fight all night long. He had just enough to lead St. Louis to another big win.
Kelly pitched six effective innings, Matt Holliday broke out of a slump with two doubles and the Cardinals beat the Atlanta Braves 6-2 on Thursday.
"I didn't have any of my good stuff," said Kelly, who threw 109 pitches. "From pitch one to the last pitch nothing was easy."
Kelly (5-3) allowed two runs and seven hits while improving to 5-0 with a 1.79 ERA in his last seven starts. St. Louis improved to 7-1 in Kelly's eight starts since he rejoined the rotation on July 6.
"We needed a solid outing from him and he was very good," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "He did a nice job for us."
The NL East-leading Braves played without Jason Heyward , who is out with a broken right jaw after he was beaned during Wednesday's 4-1 win at the New York Mets . The outfielder had surgery on Thursday in Atlanta and could miss the rest of the regular season.
The Braves had at least one batter reach in each of the first five innings, but couldn't come up with a big blow against Kelly, who struck out three and walked two.
"He did a good job of keeping us off balance," Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton said. "He threw his fastball in the zone and got the job done."
Kelly may not have been pleased with his effort, but his teammates certainly were impressed.
"He's like having a Ferrari in your garage," second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "He's settling in as a starter and he's running with it. I love it when he goes out there and competes. He's aggressive and he's pitching with confidence."
Upton hit his 24th homer, but the Braves lost for the second time in three games at the start of a six-game trip. Atlanta had won eight of its last nine regular-season games against St. Louis.
St. Louis slugger Matt Holliday went 2 for 3 and drove in a run, matching the amount of hits he had during a 2-for-24 slide over his previous six games. He doubled and scored in the fourth, then capped the Cardinals' three-run fifth with an RBI double that made it 4-2.
David Freese had a run-scoring groundout in the fourth for St. Louis, and then singled in a run in the seventh.
Paul Maholm (9-10) came off the disabled list and allowed five runs, four earned, and five hits in 5 1-3 innings for Atlanta. It was the first game for the left-hander since he left a July 20 start at the Chicago White Sox with a bruised left wrist.
"It was good to get back out there and compete against a tough lineup," Maholm said. "Hopefully in five days I'll be able to make some adjustments and get back out there."
Maholm helped himself with a leadoff single in the fifth. Upton then hit a one-out drive to left-center for his eighth homer this month, giving Atlanta a 2-1 lead.
St. Louis went back in front in the bottom half on consecutive run-scoring doubles by Carpenter, Carlos Beltran and Holliday. Pete Kozma sparked the big inning with a one-out walk.
"Getting hits like that in a row, it doesn't happen a lot," Beltran said. "We're concentrating more with guys in scoring position."
NOTES: The Cardinals began a string of 17 consecutive games against opponents with winning records. ... St. Louis RHP Jake Westbrook is questionable for his next start Monday with back stiffness. ... INF Elliot Johnson made his first start for the Braves and broke out of an 0-for-31 slump with a second-inning single. He was claimed off waivers from Kansas City on Wednesday. ... Atlanta's Kris Medlen (10-11, 3.71 ERA) will face Adam Wainwright (14-7, 2.66 ERA) in the second game of the four-game set on Friday. ... Holliday grounded into his major league-leading 28th double play in the seventh.