MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Atlanta Braves

Jul 18, 2021; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Joc Pederson (22) grounds out bringing home a run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fourth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The pressure amps up after the All-Star break.

The season is beyond its statistical midpoint, and the trading deadline is two weeks away. Contenders and pretenders are facing buy-or-sell questions.

But most teams still see opportunity knocking. That is particularly the case for the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres, who will open a three-game series in Georgia on Monday night.

Both teams are third in their divisions, although the Padres are in the second wild-card slot. Both have opportunities to move up, however.

The Padres opened a 10-game road trip by winning two of three in Washington.

Over the next 13 days, they will be playing two teams with losing records before returning home to play the A's and Rockies. Meanwhile, the two teams ahead of them in the National League West -- the Giants and Dodgers -- play each other seven times.

The Braves have a more direct chance to close their division deficit. Before July is over, they will play the National League East-leading Mets five times. They trail the Mets by four games.

"All games now increase in value," Braves manager Brian Snitker said recently.

"We know what we have to do: Focus on us playing better and winning games," said Padres manager Jayce Tingler.

Yu Darvish (7-3, 3.09 ERA) will come off the injured list to start the series opener for the Padres. He will likely be opposed by 6-foot-7, 250-pound rookie Kyle Muller (1-2, 3.45 ERA).

The 23-year-old Muller, a second-round pick in 2016, has been with the Braves' Triple-A Gwinnett affiliate since making his last major league start on July 3. Darvish has been on the injured list due to back and hip tightness since July 9.

But Tingler was enthused Saturday while addressing the media after Darvish's bullpen session.

"We loved what we saw and then what Yu had to say after the session," said Tingler. "He's starting Monday."

Muller has made four major league appearances (three starts) this season with a 1.09 WHIP and a .167 opponents' batting average. He has worked 15 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on nine hits and eight walks with 20 strikeouts.

He has a 2-2 record with a 3.92 ERA in nine starts at Triple-A with 56 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings.

Darvish will be making his 19th start of the season, and the Padres are 14-4 when he starts. Through his first 16 starts, Darvish had a 2.44 ERA. But in his last two outings, he gave up 10 runs on 14 hits and a walk with 10 strikeouts in just nine innings.

Not only were his back and hip hurting, but Darvish may also have had a touch of the stomach ailment that sent Blake Snell to the injured list and sapped his energy.

Although he was selected for the National League All-Star team, Darvish was placed on the injured list before the break with the idea that he would get better if he wasn't thinking about pitching in the All-Star Game.

It worked.

"He feels fine, and his energy is back," said Tingler. "He's eager to get back to work."

--Field Level Media

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