In late July, a grisly season-ending injury to starter Tim Hudson galvanized the Atlanta clubhouse and helped set the Braves off on a 14-game winning streak, the longest in the Majors this year. Now that Jason Heyward's fractured jaw has left the Braves once again short a clubhouse leader and scrambling for depth at multiple positions, the next several weeks have become a crucial proving ground for the National League East leaders as they try to avoid backing into the playoffs.
With a win on Saturday night, the Cardinals can clinch the four-game weekend series and exact some revenge for the sweep they were dealt in Atlanta just after Hudson's injury. Right-hander Shelby Miller will take the mound looking to keep the NL Central lead within his team's grasp by the end of the weekend.
"Obviously, we're getting down to the end of this deal, so every [win] is important -- especially when you can do it against a team like Atlanta, who is winning their division," Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter said.
The Cards are banking on Miller's third start at Busch Stadium this month to go a little more smoothly than the previous two. He threw only two pitches in his Aug. 7 start against the Dodgers before he was pulled after being hit by a line drive. Though he was able to make his next start later on in the same homestand, Miller gave up a pair of home runs and didn't receive much help from his offense or defense in an Aug. 14 loss to the Pirates.
With Friday night's 3-1 win, the Cardinals pulled within two games of the Braves for the best record in baseball. Atlanta will look to starter Julio Teheran to stop the bleeding with a performance similar to the seven shutout innings he produced in a 2-0 win over St. Louis on July 27.
However, Teheran has been battling fast-rising pitch counts that have led to early exits in his first four starts of August. He threw 105 pitches -- his third-highest total this year -- over just six innings in the Braves' 2-1 win over the Nationals last Sunday.
"[Teheran] didn't have his best stuff," catcher Gerald Laird said after Sunday's game. "He was struggling with the changeup and he didn't have that slider. But he kept making pitches when he needed to."
While the Braves have their division all but locked up, they are not taking postseason seeding lightly after a controversial loss to the Cardinals in last year's one-game Wild Card playoff. A victory on Saturday would help fend off one of their closest challengers for home-field advantage, in addition to keeping a split of the four-game series in play.
Braves: Garcia acquired to add rotation depth
• With Brandon Beachy headed back to the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation, the Braves moved to bolster their rotation depth for the stretch run on Friday afternoon, acquiring right-hander Freddy Garcia from the Orioles in exchange for cash considerations. Garcia made 11 appearances for Baltimore this year, posting a 5.77 ERA before being outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk near the end of June.
Garcia will pitch for the Braves' Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett until the Major League rosters expand on Sept. 1, after which he could help preserve the Atlanta pitching staff in a long relief role or make spot starts as needed.
"This guy has been around and he knows how to navigate through a Major League lineup," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think it's a great pickup. You can't have too many of those guys. We'll see how he pitches in Gwinnett. If he can come up and help us in September, then by all means let's do that."
• As for Beachy, who will visit Dr. James Andrews on Monday, the Braves are confident the most recent setback in the righty's ongoing return to 100 percent from Tommy John surgery will not sideline the 24-year-old right-hander for the rest of the season.
• Heyward underwent surgery to have two metal plates inserted into his jaw on Thursday in Atlanta. When he is ready to return to action in September, he is expected to play in instructional league games first.
Cardinals: Westbrook to DL, Lyons moves to rotation
• Right-hander Jake Westbrook was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain on Friday, another nagging ailment to add to the elbow injury that forced the 35-year-old starter to miss time earlier this season. Westbrook is 0-4 in his last five starts with a 9.69 ERA.
"Coming back from [right elbow inflammation in May] and then from the DL was kind of just a feel thing, getting back in the swing of things, and then I guess it's just my body is breaking down on me," Westbrook said. "It's just part of the innings that I've accumulated over my career. It's one of those things.
To take Westbrook's place in the rotation, left-hander Tyler Lyons will make his eighth start of the season on Monday against the Reds.
• With three more doubles on Friday, the Cardinals have hit 63 doubles this month, marking just the 13th time in St. Louis history a team has recorded 60 doubles in August, and only the fifth time since 1946. The next closest team in baseball this month is the Red Sox, who entered Friday with 49 doubles.
• With nine strikeouts on Friday night, St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright passed Chris Carpenter for third place on the franchise's all-time strikeout list with a total of 1,090 strikeouts in his eight-year career. Wainwright threw a season-high 128 pitches to secure his fifth complete game of the season.
• Braves second baseman Dan Uggla is scheduled to begin a two-game Minor League rehab stint on Monday with Gwinnett. Uggla had his vision corrected with LASIK surgery on Aug. 16, and he is expected to return to the Atlanta lineup on Wednesday.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.