When the Atlanta Braves open a two-game series on the road against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night, they will bring a three-game losing streak into a game for the first time this season.
Atlanta dropped the final three games of a five-game road series against the New York Mets over the weekend, dropping 6 1/2 games back of the Mets for the National League East lead.
There remains plenty of optimism, however.
The Braves remain safely atop the NL wild-card standings, and they're 18 games above .500 (64-46), which is 18 games better than they were after 110 games last season.
Of course, last season ended with a World Series title.
Braves manager Brian Snitker went through some bumps in the road last season and realizes there will be more this time around.
"I knew we were going to have to navigate some tough times again before this thing is over," Snitker said after a 5-2 loss to the Mets on Sunday. "We've come out of it before and we'll come out of it again."
The Braves will try to stop their skid behind veteran right-hander Charlie Morton.
Morton (5-5, 4.09 ERA) has just one win in his past 10 outings, but he's 7-1 in 12 starts against the Red Sox in his career with a 3.72 ERA.
The Red Sox are trying to get back on track after watching their playoff hopes erode over the past six weeks.
They lost three of four on the road to the Kansas City Royals over the weekend and have dropped four of five overall.
Ever since a 19-4 run in June got the Red Sox 11 games over .500, they have gone 12-25, dropping five games behind the final AL wild-card spot.
"We can't wait around hoping for something to happen, we have to go out there and get it," Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts said.
The Red Sox didn't signal they were willing to win at all costs when their biggest move at last week's trade deadline was sending catcher Christian Vazquez to the AL West-leading Houston Astros.
Another decision that is not paying dividends is playing Jarren Duran in center field.
Duran struggled again on Sunday, making several defensive miscues that helped Kansas City pull away for a 13-5 victory. Duran's batting average has also nosedived from .329 on July 6 to its current .227.
"He's our center fielder right now. We trust him," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said after Sunday's loss. "This is a kid that's part of what we're trying to accomplish and we're going to keep rolling with him."
Duran, who began his minor league career at second base, said it has been difficult adjusting to a new position at the major league level.
"Everything's more difficult to do at the big league level," Duran said. "I'm just learning my craft and just working each day, coming here, busting my butt and doing what I can do."
Jackie Bradley Jr., a Gold Glove center fielder with Boston in 2018, was released by the team on Thursday.
The Red Sox plan to start veteran left-hander Rich Hill (4-5, 4.52 ERA), who's seeking his first win since June 26 but is 5-0 in 10 appearances against Atlanta, including eight starts, with a 2.13 ERA.
--Field Level Media