MLB: Pirates building momentum, seek sweep of Braves

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Things are starting to look a little brighter for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

They’ve won four of their past six games and are 6-4 in their past 10. They’ve found a groove at the plate, scoring 77 runs over the past two weeks.

Pittsburgh’s starters have posted a 2.41 ERA in nine games since May 16, and eight of those games have been quality starts. Opposing batters are hitting just .205 against the Pirates’ starting pitching.

“The best thing that you can have is internal competition,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “It’s not competing against each other; it’s competing with each other.”

The Pirates will look for more of the same when they go for the sweep against the visiting Atlanta Braves on Sunday. Pittsburgh hasn’t swept Atlanta since walking away winners of a three-game set from April 7-9, 2017.

Bailey Falter pitched 7 1/3 innings in the Pirates’ 11-5 win on Friday and Mitch Keller followed that with a stellar outing on Saturday, pitching into the seventh in the 4-1 victory.

Martin Perez (1-3, 4.80 ERA) will get the nod for the series finale. The veteran hurler has faced the Braves just once in his career (0-1). He has a 10.50 ERA against them, allowing seven runs on 12 hits, including three home runs, with six strikeouts in six innings.

He allowed four runs (two earned) on five hits in 4 1/3 innings in a no-decision in Pittsburgh’s 7-6 win over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday. Perez has allowed at least one home run in each of his past four starts, including five in a 10-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on May 15.

It’s been a different story in the other dugout as Atlanta tries to break out of a funk that has seen it drop seven of its past 10 games.

After Saturday’s loss, the Braves have now scored one or fewer for the fourth time in the past 11.

“It’s a long season, and we still know we can turn it around at some point,” center fielder Michael Harris II said. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing and try to correct some of the little things.”

Not helping matters has been the drop-off at the plate for two of their top hitters from last season.

After putting up a .337 average last season and tying a career-high with 41 home runs, reigning National League MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. is hitting .246 this year with only four home runs. He’s gone from a .596 slugging percentage in 2023 to .356 in 2024.

Matt Olson, meanwhile, is slugging .396 and has seven home runs after he slugged .604 and hit a franchise-record 54 home runs a season ago.

“I’ve always said hitting is contagious,” Olson said. “It was contagious when we were all squaring balls up last year. Sometimes, it can be contagious the other way, too. You just need a couple of balls barrelled back to back and you have a big inning, and there we go.”

Chris Sale (7-1, 2.22) will start for the Braves. The veteran has faced the Pirates just once in his career, a no-decision in which he gave up three hits in seven scoreless innings.

–Field Level Media

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