(BaseballStL) -- The St. Louis Cardinals return to Busch Stadium to start a four-game series against the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves on Thursday. Here are five things you need to know about the Braves:
1. The Braves are cooling off since a 14-game win streak
Before their last meeting in July, the Cardinals had the best record in baseball. Now it’s the Braves who sit atop the standings with an MLB-best 77-49 record.
The Cardinals were the first victim of the Braves as they unraveled a 14-game win streak which included sweeps of St. Louis (three games), Colorado Rockies (four games), Philadelphia Phillies (three games) and Washington Nationals (three games). The Miami Marlins ended the streak after dropping the Braves in the second game of their three-game set on August 10.
The Braves has since cooled off by winning six of the last 10 games played. But since playing the Cardinals on July 26, the Braves have increased their division lead from eight games to 15.5 over the Nationals thanks to a 20-4 record and a tenth-inning win on Wednesday.
The last time the Braves lost back-to-back games was July 20-21 against the Chicago White Sox.
2. Atlanta’s pitching is strong
The Braves bullpen has put a stranglehold on their opponents this season with an MLB-best 2.41 ERA entering Wednesday. The pitching overall is second-best in the majors with a 3.20 ERA and have posted a 2.90 ERA since the All-Star break.
Three Braves starters have at least 10 wins (Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Kris Medlen). Thursday’s projected starter Paul Maholm will go for win No. 10.
Also, closer Craig Kimbrel has converted 30 consecutive save opportunities. He has 40 saves in 43 opportunities this season.
3. Beware of the long ball
The Braves have clubbed a National League-best 150 home runs -- 49 more than the Cardinals. Chris Johnson blasted a three-run home run in tenth inning of a 4-1 win against the Mets on Wednesday.
Five players have blasted 15 or more home runs this season for Atlanta: Justin Upton (23), Dan Uggla (21), Brian McCann (18), Freddie Freeman (15) and Evan Gattis (15). Upton has smacked seven homers in 28 games since the All-Star break. Freeman, Jason Heyward and McCann each have hit six in that span.
4. Chris Johnson in battle for NL batting title
In their first season without the now-retired Chipper Jones, Johnson has filled in at third base with a .332 batting average to contend with Yadier Molina for the NL batting title race. Johnson clubbed his tenth home run of the season in the tenth inning against the Mets on Wednesday.
Since the All-Star break, Johnson is hitting .339. Not bad for a career .290 hitter. He has struck out 89 times in 394 at-bats.
5. Braves are bruised and beaten
The Braves will be without power-hitting second baseman Dan Uggla who was placed on the 15-day disable list to have Lasik eye surgery on August 13. He was hitting .186 with 146 strikeouts through 388 at-bats.
Jason Heyward may also miss some time after being struck in the jaw with a pitch in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s victory over the Mets. He had to be helped off the field afterwards. He is batting .253 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI this season.