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Sun, Apr 21, 2013 - 1:35 PM ET
 

Braves-Pirates Preview

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The Atlanta Braves are still tied for baseball's best record, but they find themselves in an unfamiliar spot thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pittsburgh handed Atlanta its first consecutive losses of the season and will look to extend the Braves' slide to three straight games Sunday at PNC Park in the finale of a four-game set.

The Pirates (9-8) have won six of eight and inched above the .500 mark for the first time this season with Saturday's 3-1 victory. Starters James McDonald and Paul Maholm were locked in a pitchers' duel until the Pirates broke through in the sixth. Maholm had surrendered two hits while throwing five shutout innings before allowing three runs, including a two-run homer to Gaby Sanchez - his first of the season. Sanchez had come in struggling, batting .174 with four hits in 12 games.

"It was a matter of our hitters sticking with the game plan," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Braves' 13-4 mark is tied with Colorado for the best in the majors, but their powerful offense has been somewhat halted of late. They were shut out in two of three prior to Saturday and the club produced just six hits in two losses to the Pirates.

Atlanta was 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position Saturday, didn't have an at-bat in such a situation in Friday's 6-0 loss and was 1 for 7 in a 6-4 win on Thursday.

The Braves only came away with one run in Friday's second inning in which they drew three walks against McDonald, who fanned two in a row to end the threat.

"It's been a couple of days where we can't get the big hit," said Chris Johnson, who is 21 for 45 (.467) over his last 11 games after starting the season 2 for 10. "We just have to focus in and get some hits with some guys on base. We'll be fine. We've proven we can score runs."

Pittsburgh starter Jonathan Sanchez (0-2, 12.96 ERA) will hope to pick up some good mojo from the rest of the starting staff, which has been dealing of late. McDonald struck out nine over six innings and Wandy Rodriguez allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings Friday. A.J. Burnett shut out St. Louis over seven innings of one-hit ball in a 5-0 win Wednesday.

Sanchez, however, was tagged for nine runs, eight hits and four walks in 3 1-3 innings in a 10-2 loss at Arizona on April 10. The left-hander's first chance for redemption was thwarted as Tuesday's game against the Cardinals was rained out after two innings.

He'll be opposed by Kris Medlen (1-1, 1.42), who has only received five runs of support in three starts. Though Atlanta won each of his last two, he wasn't credited with a victory in the Braves' 6-3 win over Kansas City on Tuesday. Medlen yielded two runs and six hits with no walks in seven frames.

Medlen is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in two starts against Pittsburgh, while Sanchez is 1-2 with a 5.06 ERA over seven starts versus Atlanta. Sanchez's only victory over the Braves came on May 25, 2009, with San Francisco.

Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla told the team's official website he hopes to return Monday against the Rockies after leaving Saturday's game in the fourth inning with tightness in his left calf.

Tagged: Braves, Pirates, Jonathan Sanchez, Gaby Sanchez, Kris Medlen

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