Record-wise, the Pirates actually hold a half-game edge over the Braves in the standings.
Yet as the clubs prepare to open a three-game set on Monday in Atlanta, the National League East-leading Braves (34-22) hold the largest division lead of any team in the Majors, while the Pirates (35-22) find themselves tied for second place in the NL Central, two games back of the division-leading Cardinals.
Both teams have played well of late, with Atlanta not having lost a series in its last five. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is coming off its first series loss in its last eight tries after dropping two of three to the division-rival Reds over the weekend.
The Braves will look to further pad their 6 1/2-game lead in the East when they send Kris Medlen to the mound for the series opener. Medlen left his most recent outing early after taking a line drive off his left calf in the second inning of Wednesday's start against the Blue Jays.
Medlen, still looking for his first victory since April 9, was also battling a case of laryngitis at the time, but said he is 100 percent on all fronts entering Monday's start.
"I've been hit by a lot of balls in my life, just playing short and whatever else, and that's probably one of the harder ones that I've felt," said Medlen, who actually finished the second inning before leaving the game. "I think I knew right away, but I just wanted to at least get through the inning."
The Pirates will counter with veteran A.J. Burnett, who will also be seeking his first victory in quite some time on Monday.
Despite pitching consistently well all season, Burnett has not been credited with a win in the past month. Since last earning a victory on May 3, Burnett has gone winless in five outings despite turning in a quality start each time out.
A victim of little run support, Burnett saw his string of five straight seven-inning outings snapped on Wednesday when he lasted six innings against the Tigers. Though he allowed just three runs, Burnett exited the game trailing, 3-1, before the Pirates rallied for a 5-3 victory.
Coming off a 16-10 season in 2012, Burnett has just three wins this season in spite of a solid 2.72 ERA. Through it all, manager Clint Hurdle said the veteran righty has given the club a lot more than what his win-loss record may suggest.
"He's a pro," Hurdle said. "His responsibility is to set the tone for that entire rotation, regardless of what goes on around him."
Pirates: Burnett looking to bail out bullpen
Burnett will be looking to extend his streak on Monday of pitching at least six innings, especially in the wake of what Pittsburgh's bullpen endured on Sunday.
With starter Jeanmar Gomez leaving Sunday's outing after just one inning due to tightness in his right forearm, the Pirates used five relievers over the final 10 innings of the eventual 11-inning victory.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Burnett has pitched at least six innings in nine of his last 10 starts and completed seven frames in five of his last six.
Braves: Gattis seeing regular playing time
Evan Gattis' success at the plate has earned the rookie regular playing time of late, albeit primarily in the outfield since Brian McCann's return.
Gattis has started eight of the last 11 games since not finding himself in the starting lineup for six straight games from May 15-21. Even in those contests, Gattis often found a way to make an impact, as he is 5-for-7 with three home runs as a pinch-hitter this season.
Despite the eye-popping numbers in late-game situations as a pinch-hitter, Gattis said being part of the starting lineup is preferable, even if it means playing left field.
"I was having success with the pinch-hit thing, but it was definitely good to get a couple of at-bats against the same guy and all that," Gattis said. "It's good to have a game plan."
• Braves outfielder B.J. Upton, who delivered a walk-off single on Saturday and followed with a home run on Sunday, is just a .205 (9-for-44) lifetime hitter against Burnett. Upton has also struck out in 17 of those 44 at-bats, his most whiffs against any pitcher.
• Burnett is 5-11 in his career against the Braves, marking the only Major League club against which he has registered double-digit losses.
• After not winning the season series a single time from 1998-2007, the Pirates have defeated Atlanta in the head-to-head matchup three of the last five seasons and lead the current season series, 3-1.