And though it remains an extreme long shot that the Braves will overcome a three-game deficit to the Nationals over the final three games, Atlanta still looks to finish out the season strong as it prepares to play in the first National League Wild Card game.
Winners of seven of their last eight games, the Braves' final regular-season stop is Pittsburgh to face a Pirates club that clinched its 20th consecutive losing season with a 4-3 loss to the Reds on Sunday. Less than two months ago, on Aug. 6 to be exact, the Pirates were 16 games over .500 and in the middle of the Wild Card race.
Atlanta will send left-hander Paul Maholm (13-10, 3.71 ERA) to the mound in search of his second consecutive win. Maholm is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA this season against Pittsburgh, where he played from 2005-11.
Left-hander Jeff Locke (0-3, 6.35 ERA) will toe the rubber for Pittsburgh. Making his 10th Major League start, Locke is still in search of his first career win. In his last start, on Wednesday against the Mets, he lasted just 3 2/3 innings after allowing five earned runs on nine hits.
"All the great pitchers who know how to win also knew how to lose," Locke said after the outing. "My main goal when I go out there is to have put my team in a position to win when I leave. Lately, it hasn't gone that way when I've been on the mound."
He hopes to turn his luck around in his final start of 2012.
Braves: Medlen, Braves set Major League record
Kris Medlen and the Braves made history on Sunday afternoon at Turner Field.
Behind Medlen's six strong innings, the Braves set a Major League record by winning their 23rd consecutive game started by the 26-year-old right-hander. They passed the mark set by the Yankees and Whitey Ford and the Giants and Carl Hubbell.
"[It's] crazy," Medlen said on Saturday, a day before surpassing the record set by a pair of Hall of Famers. "I don't belong with them."
The streak, during which Medlen is 14-0, started in 2010. But Tommy John surgery in August of that year led to a yearlong recovery process. Medlen started this year in the bullpen before entering the rotation on July 31.
Medlen, who is in line to start the NL Wild Card game for Atlanta, improved to 10-1 on the season and lowered his ERA to 1.57 after allowing just one unearned run on three hits against the Mets on Sunday.
Chipper Jones went 1-for-2 with two walks and a run scored in his final regular-season game at Turner Field on Sunday. Jones is retiring after the season.
Michael Bourn started on Sunday for the first time since Sept. 22, when he sprained his left thumb diving into second base. The speedy center fielder went 2-for-3 with an RBI, a run scored and stole his 40th base of the season.
Pirates: Hurdle urges young Bucs to play winter ball
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he's spoken to six to 10 of his younger players about playing winter ball.
"I've been blunt about how that can help them," Hurdle said on Sunday. "More at-bats, especially for some guys challenged by spin and soft stuff. You want to see changeups and breaking balls? Go to Mexico. I'm an absolute believer in the benefits."
Right-handers Kevin Correa (11-11, 4.33 ERA) and A.J. Burnett (16-9, 3.43 ERA) are set to start the final two games of the season for the Pirates.
Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez said on Sunday that left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty would be unavailable for the next few days. O'Flaherty has a sore back that has flared up in the past. The reliever said with a few days of rest, he expects to be ready to go.