While they have a comfortable cushion in the NL East, the Atlanta Braves would love to start moving a little closer to clinching their first division title in eight years.
Paul Maholm will try to help by ending his recent road struggles and deny the Philadelphia Phillies a three-game sweep Sunday.With a 13-game division lead, the Braves have a magic number of nine but haven't reduced that as much as they would have liked lately with three straight losses. Atlanta (85-56) couldn't complete their comeback in a 6-5 defeat Saturday in Philadelphia.Andrelton Simmons hit a tying two-run homer off Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning, but Freddy Galvis ended the game with a solo shot."We battled back and tied it but Freddy Galvis got us," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We had opportunities but haven't had that bloop single or ground ball through the middle, but we'll keep plugging away."The Braves have dropped four in a row only twice this season but starting Maholm (10-10, 4.41 ERA) on the road could make avoiding another such skid difficult. The left-hander is 0-4 with a 9.16 ERA in his last four starts away from home, including a 5-4 defeat to Philadelphia (65-77) on July 5, when he gave up five runs over six innings.He is 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in his last two overall outings after a difficult return from the disabled list in St. Louis on Aug. 22. Maholm, who missed nearly a month with a bruised left wrist, yielded three runs over five innings in a 13-5 rout of the New York Mets on Monday."Sometimes you go out there and you're not in rhythm, and you just have to battle, and today was one of those days," Maholm told the team's website. "Luckily, the offense put up so many runs, my five-and-dive wasn't a big deal."While Maholm has often labored on the road, Cole Hamels has a 2.05 ERA in his last six home starts but doesn't have a win to show for his efforts. He gave up one run and two hits over seven innings to Washington while fanning eight Monday but left with the score tied in a 3-2 victory."Can he feel that way all the time?" shortstop Jimmy Rollins told the team's website. "He was nasty tonight. That changeup was as nasty or the second best it's been all season long. He hit his spots and he hit every pitch where he wanted to."Hamels (6-13, 3.50) has received some of the lowest run support in the NL -- 3.36 per nine innings -- and has two wins in his last seven starts despite a 1.90 ERA. The left-hander, though, earned one of those victories against Atlanta on Aug. 12, tossing a six-hitter in a 5-1 final.He allowed five runs over five innings in his other start against the Braves this season, a 7-5 loss April 1. He's 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA in his last seven home starts versus Atlanta.The Phillies haven't swept the Braves at home since Sept. 5-7, 2011.