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Atlanta Braves host Pittsburgh Pirates Monday night

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The Bucs begin a 7-game road trip that takes them through Atlanta and Philadelphia,the top two clubs in the National League with some of the game’s best pitchers.It all starts Monday in Atlantawith ESPN broadcasting the series opener between the Pirates and Braves (7:00PM ET). 

According to the MLB money line, Pittsburghhas little chance of beginning the trip on a winning note with Atlanta -200 chalk. Game 1 of the 4-gameseries has a 7-run total

[gameodds]3/91814/238-19-1096/us[/gameodds] 

That Clint Hurdle has the Pirates above .500 warrants atleast some respect even if the baseball odds don’t show it for this game.  In fact, Pittsburgh is well-respected by those bettingthem; the Bucs’ +15.5 units this season lead the MLB betting charts. 

Granted, they’re in a weak division where being five gamesabove .500 is keeping them right there with the leaders.  The NL Central standings are a virtual 3-waytie with the Pirates and Cards a percentage point ahead of the Brewers. 

Hurdle will send young James McDonald (6-4, 4.15) to themound to open the trip and the series. Two trends in his favor are Pittsburgh emerging victorious in all threeof his July starts (2.45 ERA, 18 K, 18.1 IP) and the Pirates 4-0 in his lastfour games outside PNC Park (2.55 ERA, 20 K, 24.2 IP). 

Tim Hudson Atlanta Braves Pitcher
[gameodds]3/91814/238-19-1096/us/scores/07-25-2011[/gameodds]

McDonald has turned around his poor start to ’11 to becomeone of Hurdle’s most reliable starters. The Pirates are 8-3 with him on the mound since May 19 at Cincinnati, McDonald’sERA a sparkling 2.84.

One of the defeats in that span came when Atlantaswept a short 2-game series in Pittsburghin late-May.  McDonald didn’t figure intothe decision and pitched well enough to win allowing just two runs in sixinnings of the Braves’ eventual 4-2 triumph in 11 innings. 

Tim Hudson (9-6, 3.39) is just the first of five very tougharms the Pirates will face in the coming week. They will also see Tommy Hanson on Tuesday followed by Jair Jurrjensbefore taking on Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in Philly this weekend. 

Hudsonis coming off a fine performance at Coors Field last Wednesday only to not getmuch help from his lineup in the Braves’ 3-2 loss as even-money underdogs.  It stopped a 3-game win streak for the Georgiarighthander, also ending a 3-game OVER stretch. 

The Braves come home after a 3-4 road trip that includedSunday night’s 4-3 loss in Cincinnati.Despite owning baseball’s fourth-best record at 59-43, Atlanta sits six games behind the Phillies inthe NL East Division. 

Fredi Gonzalez’s club does own a top-notch home record,however, with a 30-19 mark this season and 86-44 since the start of the 2010campaign.  The Braves swept the Piratesin a 3-game series at Turner Field last season and have won eight of the last11 head-to-head collisions with the Bucs. 

A couple of injury notes include Chipper Jones (knee)possibly being activated for Monday’s game. The Atlantathird baseman has been missing in action since just before the All-StarGame.  Alex Presley, who has been playingleft field for the Pirates while regular Jose Tabata recovers from a quadinjury, is nursing a left thumb bruise and may not be available for Monday’scontest. 

Warm and humid will prevail in Atlanta throughout the series, with currentforecasts calling for a 60% chance of rain the first two days.  Jeff Karstens is slated for Pittsburgh when the series continues Tuesday.