Marlins Braves Baseball

Atlanta Braves' Josh Donaldson is congratulated by Austin Riley (27) after scoring against the Miami Marlins during a baseball game Sunday, July 7, 2019, in Atlanta. The Braves won 4-3. (AP Photo/John Amis)

The Atlanta Braves open the second half of the season right where they want to be -- in first place.

The Braves (54-37) hold a six-game lead over the Washington Nationals, and a 6½-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East.

Atlanta will try to increase that lead as it opens a three-game series Friday in San Diego. The Padres (45-45) are in third in the NL West, 14 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

There is no secret as to why the Braves built their lead in the NL East. Over the last 30 games, Ozzie Albies has hit .348, while Ronald Acuna Jr. nearly matched him at .327. Nick Markakis (.309) and Freddie Freeman (.304) were both over .300, and Dansby Swanson and Josh Donaldson came in at .290 and .280, respectively.

During that time, those six combined for 33 home runs and 106 RBIs, which helped Atlanta close the first half winning 21 of 30 games.

San Diego has been consistently inconsistent in the first half. On seven different occasions, the Padres had at least a three-game winning streak. They have also had six losing streaks of three games or longer. 

Despite that, Fernando Tatis Jr. has been everything the team could have asked for. The rookie shortstop is hitting .327 with 14 home runs and 33 RBIs, and he has been even better in his last 30 games, hitting .340 with seven homers and 18 RBIs. 

Also having big seasons are Eric Hosmer and offseason signee Manny Machado. Hosmer is hitting .287 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs, while Machado has overcome a slow start to hit .266 with 20 homers and 58 RBIs -- nearly half of which has come in the last month (.326, 10 HR, 25 RBI).

After the weekend series with San Diego, Atlanta will travel to Milwaukee for three games against the Brewers before coming back to SunTrust Park to take on the Nationals.

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Dallas Keuchel (2-2, 3.60 ERA) will get the unique opportunity to start consecutive games for the Braves. Keuchel started the last game for Atlanta prior to the All-Star break and threw 7 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and two runs in a 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins. 

Keuchel is expected to face San Diego right-hander Dinelson Lamet, who will be making his second start of the season. Lamet (0-1, 5.40) pitched five innings, allowing three runs and stuck out seven in a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers on July 4. It was his first start in the big leagues since September 2017.

Julio Teheran (5-6, 3.75) is scheduled to start Saturday, coming off one of his best starts of the season, in which he pitched six shutout innings in a 1-0 win against Miami. Mike Soroka (9-1, 2.42) will start the series finale.

The Padres have not announced a starter for Saturday or Sunday.

ON THE AIR

All three games of the series will be broadcast by Fox Sports South. Friday's game will begin at 10 p.m., with Saturday's at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday's at 4 p.m. All three games can be heard on the radio at 680 AM The Fan and Rock 100.5 FM.

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