Public Likes Braves
The Pittsburgh Pirates knew they'd eventually have to win some games where their offense wasn't putting up gaudy run totals, but their shaky pitching staff had been preventing that from happening.
Their hitting has tapered off somewhat, but their pitching has picked up the slack.
The Pirates, behind an improving rotation, will look for their season-high fifth straight win on Saturday when they continue a four-game set against the visiting Atlanta Braves, whose six-game streak they ended one night earlier.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Atlanta -111 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 9.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 77% of bets for this game have been placed on Atlanta -111 (View MLB Bet Percentages). Bet this game.
Pittsburgh (16-19) has had the highest ERA in the NL since giving up a combined 21 runs in their first two games of the season - a thrilling extra-inning win and a blowout loss - when they opened up in Atlanta.
The Pirates' pitching staff had been struggling ever since. Pittsburgh has seen its starter fail to last more than five innings 14 times, and opponents came into Friday hitting a major-league high .306 against its starting rotation.
But as the Braves (18-16) face the Pirates for the second time this season, they're seeing a staff that's starting to settle down. Pittsburgh's starters are 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA during the team's four-game winning streak.
Ian Snell pitched seven innings on Friday and allowed one run, but the Braves tied the score at two in the eighth. Then Freddy Sanchez's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth gave the Pirates a 3-2 win.
"That's a case where I didn't hit the ball hard,'' Sanchez said. "It just found a hole.''
Outfielders Xavier Nady (34 RBIs) and Nate McLouth (29) have keyed a surprisingly potent Pittsburgh offense that is among the top 10 in baseball in runs scored, though it's only put up 11 runs over the last three wins.
But even with a minor lull in their run production, the Pirates may be witnessing the resurgence of Sanchez. The 2006 NL batting champion, Sanchez was hitting just .222 when manager John Russell decided to move him to the leadoff spot on Tuesday.
Sanchez has responded by hitting .529 (9-for-17) with five RBIs in four games since.
"To me, it doesn't matter where I hit." Sanchez said. "After my first at-bat, it's not really a factor anymore. After first my at-bat, I tend to forget I'm hitting leadoff.''
Perhaps the least consistent Pirates' starter will take the mound Saturday. Tom Gorzelanny (2-3, 6.91 ERA) won 14 games last season, but has struggled with his control in 2008. He got a win in his latest outing, pitching five innings of one-hit baseball against New York on April 30, but he walked five before exiting Pittsburgh's 13-1 victory with tightness in his back.
Gorzelanny pitched six innings and allowed three runs in the Pirates' 10-2 loss to the Braves on April 2.
Atlanta had swept consecutive home series over Cincinnati and San Diego, but the road has not been kind for Bobby Cox's team. The loss Friday was the Braves' fifth straight on the road, and their 4-12 record away from Turner Field is the worst in the majors.
"We have to turn things around on the road," right fielder Jeff Franceour told the team's official Web site.
Most of Atlanta's problems away from home have stemmed from an inability to win close games. The loss Friday dropped the Braves to 0-8 in one-run road games.
"That's what has killed us," manager Bobby Cox said.
Left-hander Chuck James (2-1, 7.62) has spent the past two weeks in the minors, but with Mike Hampton injured he'll make his third start of the season.
James posted a 1.59 ERA in three appearances - two starts - for Triple-A Richmond, but had control issues in his last start with the Braves. He allowed four runs over five innings in a 7-4 win over Florida on April 24, walking five.
James made two starts against Pittsburgh last year, pitching 13 combined innings without allowing a run. Bet this game.
Get real live customizable updates, public betting info from 6 online sports books, archived public betting info and much more by clicking here.