Pittsburgh has been mired in an offensive rut the entire season and has yet to top five runs in any of its 21 games -- the longest such streak to open a season in club history. The Pirates won't find things much easier Monday, either, as the Braves turn to southpaw Mike Minor, who has rebounded nicely since getting roughed up in his first start of the season. Minor has thrown three consecutive quality starts and picked up two wins.
"He's heading in the right direction," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's growing up right in front of our eyes. He's maturing and using that changeup, and in 3-2 counts, he's throwing some pretty good breaking pitches."
The Pirates, however, will be countering with a weapon of their own in James McDonald, who flirted with a no-hitter his last outing, but settled with his third no-decision in four starts, while striking out a season-high eight Rockies.
"I've just been focused on remaining aggressive, going hard at guys no matter what the count," said McDonald, who has a 2.78 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .184 average. "[I'm] going with my best stuff. My mental approach has been a lot better, going out there with a bullpen mentality right from the first inning."
McDonald has always possessed quality stuff, but he's struggled with success during parts of five seasons in the big leagues. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle believes the right-hander could be on the verge of taking another step forward.
"That was a big building block for him," Hurdle said, referring to his start against the Rockies. "It should be a day that tells him, 'You know what, when I work quick and when I've got my stuff, I'm really hard to hit. I need to get after it and be aggressive.'"
Atlanta has quietly put together a strong start and bounced back nicely after last season's late collapse, inching closer to the Nationals -- who have stolen much of the spotlight -- for the top spot in the National League East.
Pirates: Pitching giving club a chance
Despite how anemic the Pirates' offense has been this year, their pitching has been among the best in baseball, which has allowed the club to stay competitive through the first month. While its offense has scored the fewest runs in the Majors, entering Sunday, Pittsburgh's pitchers have surrendered the second fewest runs, while allowing the fewest total bases in baseball.
Pedro Alvarez is starting to heat up, something Pittsburgh desperately needs from one of its hitters. The third baseman has tallied four multihit games in his last seven and has six extra-base hits -- including two homers -- over that stretch. Alvarez is batting just .200 on the season with a .241 OPS, but the former top prospect is starting to show the power that has made him such an intriguing talent.
Braves: Uggla putting together hot stretch
Dan Uggla has developed a reputation as a streaky power hitter, and right now he is in one of those grooves that make him such a threat in the lineup. The second baseman has hit safely in 10 of his past 11 games, hitting all three of his homers this season over that stretch, while knocking in 11 of his 14 runs. Uggla seems to go on the hot streaks every year -- last season he hit .296 after the All-Star break and put together a 33-game hitting streak after batting .185 in the first half.
Tim Hudson made his first start of the season Sunday after being sidelined for the first few weeks after undergoing offseason back surgery. The right-hander collected the victory after working five innings of two-run ball. He walked a pair and struck out six on the day. The veteran went 16-10 with a 3.22 ERA in 2011, and his return to the rotation is a welcome sign for a Braves staff that boasts a lot of young arms.