Pirates begin tough road trip in Atlanta

(The Atlanta Braves host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. It's Pittsburgh’s first game on ESPN since Sept. 22, 2004.)

Currently in a three-way tie for first place in the National League Central, this could be the biggest week in the Pittsburgh Pirates' season.

They start a seven-game road trip Monday with four games in Atlanta (which is tied with the San Francisco Giants for the second-best record in the NL) followed by three against the team with the best record in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies.

This is Pittsburgh's first trip to Atlanta this season; the Pirates are 0-2 against the Braves in 2011.

James McDonald This Season

James McDonald is on the mound for the Pirates. He's been great at home this season (2.83 ERA in 10 starts at PNC Bank Park), but on the road McDonald’s allowing almost three more runs per game with a 1.72 WHIP, and has allowed eight home runs in 46.2 innings.

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan enters the day tied for third in the league in saves (28) and two shy of becoming the first Pirate with at least 30 saves in a season since Jose Mesa in 2004. Hanrahan has five saves against the Braves in his career, tied for second among all teams he’s pitched against.

Facing the Pirates is Tim Hudson, who’s 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA in his past six starts. In that span, opponents have hit a combined .145 against Hudson’s offspeed pitches (league average is .229). And we may see more of the same Monday. The Pirates have hit .205 against nonfastballs this season (29th in MLB) and rank 28th or worse in extra-base hits (73), slugging percentage (.288) and OPS (.537).