• All Star Game

    Cooperstown Bound: The Incredible Career of Chipper Jones

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – The crowd gathered around the 23-year-old peach-fuzzed kid, who stared into the sea of microphones and cameras, and responded to question after question following a four-hit, four-RBI performance to help lift his team to victory.

    Part of that media scrum late in the evening on June 6, 1995, inside the cramped no-frills locker room of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, included a 22-year-old peach-fuzzed kid holding a pen and a notepad. At some point amid the back-and-forth, the novice reporter summoned up the courage to ask the young baseball player what he hit to drive in two runs in a bases-loaded fourth inning, and followed up with a question about approach given that hit came on the first pitch while the other four at-bats of the night were worked deep into the count.

    The kid in the spotlight provided a quick analysis of his performance, giving the kid holding the notebook a couple of quotes that would land in a college newspaper’s weekly summary of recent Braves games.

    Some 277 months after that exchange, both those kids have kids of their own, are immersed into new realities, carry a few extra pounds and, yes, both have facial hair tinged with gray. Welcome to middle age, Chipper Jones, who Sunday will take his rightful place in baseball’s Hall of Fame, the crowning achievement of a 19-year career which produced a World Series title, an MVP award, All-Star games and 10,614 plate appearances – all with one team.

    The blunt numbers scream Hall of Famer, but for Chipper Jones – a kid from Pierson, Fla. – it goes far beyond just the raw data. It goes to something etched on a plaque hanging in my Braves Room, a quote that sums up the essence of Jones’ relationship with the team he signed with in 1990, the team I’ve loved since the late 1970s and a team that I covered a bit from time to time during a previous life.

    “I’m a southern kid and I wanted to play in a southern town where I felt comfortable.”

    That comfort level brings much discomfort for opposing fanbases, most notably the one who pledges allegiance to the New York Mets. Chipper made a livelihood out of crushing the Mets, from hitting 49 career homers against the team from Flushing in 245 games to his famous smash job against New York during the 1999 race for the National League East title, in which he belted seven homers while hitting .400 with a 1.510 OPS in 12 games.

    But this story goes beyond the numbers. It goes to a relationship between father and son, the elder imparting wisdom and spinning yarns of heroes of yesteryear, of games watched together, of batting practice and little league and travel ball, of going away to play baseball in high school, of growing up and making mistakes and learning to be a man – lessons we have to learn regardless of athletic prowess or lack thereof.

    For me, it goes to the moments. I saw his first major-league hit – Sept. 14, 1993 against the Reds, in the midst of the last great pennant race, a chopper to third base that Juan Samuel could not field in time to throw out the fleet-footed switch-hitter. I saw his last major-league hit – Oct. 5, 2012 against the Cardinals in the NL wild-card game (a game remembered for the worst officiating call I’ve witnessed in 40 years of attending and covering sporting events), another infield single in his final at-bat as a major-leaguer.

    In between, I was fortunate to be in the building when Chipper celebrated winning two pennants and a World Series championship, was a member of the press asking him about the disappointment of losing the first two World Series games at home in 1999, covered him belting a home run in Atlanta in the 2000 All-Star game, and countless other moments as fan and sports writer that are blurred by the passage of time.

    During that stretch, I grew up, got married, became a dad, changed careers and started coaching baseball. Chipper is one of a select few I always pointed to when players and parents would ask for somebody in the majors for their children to watch and learn how to play the game. He never took a pitch off, wanted to be in the lineup every day, wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and put his heart and soul into every game in which he took the field.

    Friday night, I sat in SunTrust Park with my oldest son. Jonny Venters, who the Braves acquired from Tampa Bay the night before, made his first appearance with Atlanta since that 2012 wild-card game. When I showed my son a tweet by Kevin McAlpin of 680 The Fan and 93.7 FM stating how long it had been since Venters pitched for the Braves, my son immediately replied: “Chipper’s final game.”

    It was interesting to watch the All-American boy with the good looks and the immense talent grow up before our eyes. Consider the greats of that era of Braves baseball. Glavine was drafted in 1984. Smoltz was traded for in 1987. Neither transaction moved the needle because, to be blunt, the Braves were irrelevant in a town captivated with Hawks basketball (and I loved me some Atlanta’s Air Force back then) and college football and little else, especially a baseball team that finished buried in the old NL West every year from 1985-1990.

    Maddux? Sure, that was a huge move, but it came in the winter following the 1992 season, after the Braves had captured the city’s heart and soul with two consecutive NL pennants. Cox? He managed here from 1978-1981, left for Toronto, then came home to serve as general manager starting in 1986 until he moved back to the dugout in 1990, during the aforementioned awful years. Even Schuerholz, the architect of that worst-to-first 1991 squad, had been here nearly three full seasons before Chipper arrived.

    The point being: Chipper went from start to finish in the midst of one of the greatest runs in American pro sports history, with all eyes on him, with the pressure of a city and a fanbase eager to shake its reputation of being a bad sports town. And Chipper delivered, often in dramatic, “did you see that?!” fashion. Even his last homer, the walkoff blast off Jonathan Papelbon on the Sunday before Labor Day in 2012, still elicits tremendous emotion nearly six years later.

    I started my third year of college as a 20-year-old when I sat in old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and watched Chipper leg out an infield single for his first knock in the majors. I sat in Turner Field as a 39-year-old husband and father of two, with my oldest son by my side, when Chipper legged out an infield single in the ninth inning of the 2012 wild-card game in his final at-bat.

    Off the field, Chipper made his share of mistakes. His biography, “Ballplayer,” written by the fantastic former Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Carroll Rogers Walton – who was more than kind to a young sportswriter trying to find his way once upon a time – is a tremendous tell-all of that side of the guy who went from hot-shot, cocky top prospect to franchise icon.

    And now the journey arrives this weekend in Cooperstown, and enshrinement in the hall of baseball immortals. I’ll spend Sunday in a hotel room next to SunTrust Park at a private watch party before the Braves game with the Dodgers, and I’ll lift a glass in honor of a player who brought this fanbase so much joy for two decades.

    Seventy-eight days after Chipper’s first big-league hit, a song was released that played constantly on radio during my college days. “Mr. Jones” became Counting Crows’ biggest hit, and I think often of this lyric from that song anytime I think about Chipper’s journey:

    “We all wanna be big stars,

    “But we don’t know why, and we don’t know how,

    “But when everybody loves me,

    “I wanna be just about as happy as I can be.”

    Suffice to say, Chipper became one of the biggest stars of all. And it sounds like he’s happy with his life. Any of us who go through life pray for happiness and contentment. That transcends any success we find in our chosen profession. As someone who is in that place, I’m so happy Chipper has found that peace.

    Sunday, in a small village in upstate New York, he will cement his rightful place amid the greatest of the greats. And to think, we’ve been watching this journey for a quarter-century.

    Well done, kid.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    Braves sending 3 to ASG, J-Up part of final vote

    The Braves learned Sunday that Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel would represent the team at the upcoming All Star Game at Target Field in Minnesota. They, like the rest of us, were also thrilled that Justin Upton is one of 5 players vying for the final roster spot. The Final Vote closes at 4 p.m. (ET) on Thursday.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton has put up exceptional numbers despite deep slumps in the first half of the season. He has a .275/.350/.505 slash with a club-leading 17 homers and 50 RBIs. He has hit .318 at home this season, notching 11 homers and 31 of his RBIs at the Ted.

    Fans can vote at MLB.com or by tweeting #VoteJUp. Upton is up against Justin Morneau of the Rockies, Anthony Rendon of the Nationals, Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs and Casey McGehee of the Marlins.

    Freddie Freeman will now have two All Star appearances in his young career. This year he was selected by the NL players. As you will remember, Braves Country put Freddie in the game last year with the Final Vote. Freddie’s numbers are by far the best offensive numbers on the club in the first half. He has a .299/.390/.507 line with 26 doubles, 13 homers and 47 RBIs. Freddie already has a career high 3 triples on the season. His best numbers have come in clutch situations. He has hit .345 when the game is tied, .297 with 14 RBIs in the 7th inning or later and a ridiculous .313 with 16 RBIs in at-bats when there are 2 outs. And his .344 average when the Braves win is, of course, a huge reason for their success.

    Julio Teheran has been the ace that the Braves needed this season with the loss of Beachy and Medlen at the beginning of the season and Floyd recently. While his 8-5 record doesn’t quite reflect just how good Teheran has been, his 2.29 ERA does. In 126 innings pitched before the all-star break, Teheran has struck out 108 batters while walking 26. He has thrown 2 complete game shutouts this season to add to his clear dominance.

    The Braves have already said that Teheran will attend the All Star Game in Minnesota. However, it is unlike that Teheran will pitch in the game.

    It’s no surprise to the baseball world that Craig Kimbrel is making his 4th ASG appearance in as many seasons. Kimbrel has a lights-out 2.04 ERA and is tied above the NL leader board with 27 saves. In 35 1/3 innings, Kimbrel has 60 strikeouts. In addition to putting up shining numbers, Kimbrel surpassed future hall-of-famer John Smoltz to take the franchise record in saves this season.

    A player that wasn’t selected to the All Star Game and could have been had he not been injured is Evan Gattis.

    Prior to going on the disabled list with a right rhomboid spasm that they eventually learned was a bulging disc, Gattis was putting up exceptional numbers. In 63 games as the everyday catcher for the Braves, he put together a .290/.342/.558 line. Prior to the injury, his 16 home runs led all MLB catchers. He had 10 doubles, a triple and 39 RBIs.

    With Gattis behind the plate, the Braves pitching staff has a 49-40 record with a 3.22 ERA (third best in the National League). Against other NL teams, the Braves have a 3.08 ERA, good for second in the league behind their rivals the Washington Nationals. In teams won by the club, the pitching staff has a 2.02 ERA.

    Gattis has morphed into a great all-around catcher. His footwork behind the plate has improved immensely, much of it thanks to the tutelage of veteran Gerald Laird, and he is calling consistently good game behind the dish. It is only a matter of time before we can say Evan Gattis, all star catcher.

    All Star Game festivities include the All-Star Futures Game and the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, the Gillette Home Run Derby Monday night and the 85th MLB All Star Game on Tuesday.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

     

    Braves drop series to Philly, take talent to South Beach

    Closer Craig Kimbrel was the single Braves selection to the 2013 All Star Game.

    Closer Craig Kimbrel was the single Braves selection to the 2013 All Star Game.

    Since the Braves swept the Diamondbacks, they have gone 2-4. They now fly south to Miami to face off on the vast expanse that is the field at Marlins Park. Hoping to pick up a few wins within their division, the Braves will play a 3-game set in Miami before returning to Turner Field to face the Reds on the eve of the all star break.

    On Saturday, the Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel, was named to the National League all star roster. Kimbrel has a 1.72 ERA in 31 1/3 innings pitched this season with 46 strikeouts and 23 saves. He was the sole selection to the roster for the first place Atlanta Braves. Snubbed were pitcher Mike Minor and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman is one of 5 players on the final vote ballot including Adrian Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, Yasiel Puig and Hunter Pence. Freddie has a .306 average, 9 homers, and 56 RBIs this season. He leads the other 4 final vote contenders in RBIs. Freddie trails only Yasiel Puig in average, but has played in over 40 games more than rookie Puig.

    Game 1:

    W: Lee (10-2) L: Maholm (9-7) SV: Papelbon (18)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 4 9 1
    Phillies 1 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 x 5 10 0

    The Braves were unable to get to Cliff Lee further adding to the story of Lee’s season. Unfortunately, the entire game didn’t remain in Lee’s favor. Atlanta put 4 earned runs on the board in the 7th inning, all charged to Cliff Lee. Those 4 earned runs in the 7th inning matched the total number of ERs Lee had allowed in his previous 52 innings pitched against Atlanta.

    Game 2:

    W: Hudson (5-7) L: Kendrick (7-6)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 1 2 0 1 2 0 4 1 2 13 19 0
    Phillies 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 4 9 1

    In Hudson’s previous 8 starts, the Atlanta offense had scored a total of 11 runs of support. Through 5 innings Saturday, they had given him 6 runs to work with. They went on to score 13 runs on 19 hits in the game. It was one of the first games in Hudson’s 2013 season when he was given breathing room to use his sinker without the fear that opposing batters would get the ball out of the infield and eventually score. Huddy’s win added to his ridiculous stats of being 157-6 in his starts when he has been given four or more runs of support before being pulled from the game.

    votefreddieEvery starter in the lineup got at least one hit. Starter Kendrick was knocked out of the game after 5 innings. Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla and Chris Johnson led the offense. Simmons, Uggla and Heyward had homers in the game and Andrelton finished the game a double shy of the cycle.

    Since the Braves’ doubleheader on the 18th of June, Andrelton Simmons is batting .286 with 20 hits in 70 at-bats, 2 triples, 2 homers, 2 stolen bases and only 5 strikeouts. Like Simmons, Uggla has turned around his season since trying out new contacts. Since June 23rd, Uggla is hitting .286 with 12 hits in 43 at-bats, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 3 homers and 12 RBIs. Uggla holds the team lead with 16 homers. When Jason Heyward went on the disabled list after an emergency appendectomy on April 20th, he was hitting for a .161 average. He is now hitting .228. Since J-Hey’s return on the 17th of May, he has hit .264 with 11 doubles and 5 homers.

    Chris Johnson continues to be the most consistent hitter in the Braves’ lineup. Johnson leads the club in average and doubles. He trails only Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman in hits despite trailing them both by at least 40 at-bats. Oddly enough, Johnson has given the Braves more offensive production than Justin Upton–the player he was traded with to the Braves.

    Game 3:

    W: Pettibone (5-3) L: Medlen (6-8)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 3 10 1
    Phillies 2 0 0 2 1 2 0 0 x 7 10 0

    On another day, Kris Medlen may have walked away with a win against the rival Phils. However, his outing was marred by early command issues and though he recovered after the first inning, his command disappeared again in the 4th inning. For their part, the offense was terrible. Medlen actually was the first batter to get a man across the plate in the 5th inning. That run was quickly eclipsed by the solo shot he surrendered to Domonic Brown in the bottom of the inning. Frustration was rampant on the part of the offense, displayed by B.J. Upton when he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes at the plate following yet another strikeout.

    Brian McCann continued his 8-game hitting streak with another multi-hit game. Sunday’s game was the first of his 8-game streak in which McCann didn’t have at least 1 extra-base hit. Coming into the game, McCann was 16-for-28 with a .571 average. Since June 23rd, McCann has 19 hits in 39 at-bats, 6 doubles, 3 home runs and 11 RBIs. He has a .487 batting average, .535 on-base percentage and is slugging .872. Since the 23rd, he has improved his batting average from .246 to .293.

    BRAVES BEGIN QUICK TRIP TO FLORIDA…

    As the Braves arrive at Marlins Park, they will face a team that no longer has starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco. The Marlins are 3-3 since the start of July. While the Braves hold a 4-game lead on the Nationals in the division, the Braves have not fared well against teams in the NL East. The Braves need to scratch out wins against the Marlins, Phillies and Mets to keep the Nats at bay (and the Phillies, for that matter).

    An injury update: Evan Gattis started swinging Thursday and throwing Friday. His oblique is progressing, but he obviously will not return before the all star break. Brandon Beachy will make a rehab start in the next several days barring any setbacks in his recovery from the fluid that developed on his pitching elbow following his return from Tommy John surgery. The schedule for his rehab start will hinge on Gwinnett’s schedule with the Triple-A all star game on the horizon. As the Braves currently have only 2 catchers on their roster, the emergency backup catcher would be recent call-up Joey Terdoslavich. We will inevitably hear talk once again about what happens to the rotation when Beachy returns in the coming weeks. At the moment, Maholm, Medlen and Hudson have had an equal number of struggles and the bullpen has a rhythm now with the current arms available.

    The first game of the series will feature all star-worthy Minor (8-4, 3.15) vs. Slowey (3-6, 4.24). Tuesday’s game will pit Teheran (6-4, 3.23) vs. Alvarez (0-0, 5.40). The finale game of the series will feature Maholm (9-7, 3.81) vs. Turner (2-1, 2.30).

    One last note on the ASG Final Vote ballot: You can vote for Freddie Freeman online or on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (EST), any tweet that includes the designated player hashtag (#VoteFreddie) will be counted. Vote early and vote often!

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.

    Braves sweep Phils, await Mets

    For the second year in a row, Atlanta rolled into Philadelphia for a final three-game series before the All-Star break. This time, the Philadelphia Phillies sat in last place as the Braves were looking up at the first place Nationals. A lot has changed in the National League East in a year.

    The Braves came into the series with the Phillies on the heels of a 4-game series at home with Chicago where four key things happened: Jair Jurrjens pitched well, solidifying his spot in the rotation and reminding us of the JJ of old; Chipper Jones had a 5-hit game, his first at home and third of his career; Mike Minor found success; and, Brian McCann, who snapped an 0-14 slump early in the series, launched his first homer since June 15th in the series finale. McCann’s home run would begin a special four games in which McCann went yard in each.

    Despite dealing with bone chips in his ankle, Tim Hudson has continued to give the Atlanta Braves everything he’s got. Hudson pitched a remarkable 7 scoreless innings, leading the Braves to a shutout of the Phillies. Huddy’s outing was bolstered by consecutive 2-out walks to Chipper Jones and Freddie Freeman which loaded the bases for Brian McCann who blasted a grand slam in the 8th inning. Tim Hudson is scheduled to have another cortisone shot in his ailing ankle and is hopeful that the all-star break will give it the rest it needs to be healthy heading into the second-half. Hudson is hoping to avoid surgery to remove the bone chips, a surgery that would put him out for at least six weeks.

    Tommy Hanson, like Jair Jurrjens, is looking more and more like the Tommy we saw prior to last season’s all-star break. Tommy pitched 7 innings, allowing 3 earned runs and striking out 6. He was backed up by 2 flawless innings of relief on the part of Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel. Braves’ offense has seen a shift of late, thanks to the resurgence of Jason Heyward, the consistency of Martin Prado, the 13-game hitting streak of Chipper Jones, and home runs in 4 consecutive games for Brian McCann. The Philly series was a reminder to anyone who watches the Braves that when firing on all cylinders, this team can be absolutely dominant.

    The final game of the series in Philadelphia saw Dan Uggla snap a nasty slump of his own, homering off Vance Worley in the 4th inning. Uggla’s 432-foot blast to dead center was his 12th of the season and his first since June 9th. Uggla had not had a hit in his last 20 plate appearances prior to that home run off Worley. Like McCann, the Braves really need to get Uggla going. Jair Jurrjens put in yet another quality start, allowing only 3 earned runs in 7 innings. With Brian McCann’s go-ahead home run in the 7th inning, his 4th consecutive game with a bomb, Jurrjens improved to 3-2 with a 4.97 ERA.

    Throughout the series in Philly, Braves pitching received incredible defensive support from leather-flashing Andrelton Simmons, hustling Dan Uggla and the speedy Jason Heyward. There is no doubt that there are many gold gloves in the future for rookie Andrelton Simmons. While Dan Uggla’s defense was never something he was known for while with the Marlins, he has improved steadily with the glove while with the Braves.

    A few things that didn’t go well for the Braves in Philly: Jonny Venters was placed on the 15-day disabled list with what the Braves initially are calling nerve impingement in his pitching elbow. Venters has struggled in nearly every pitching category and has not looked at all like the Venters we saw dominate the league last season. In addition to losing Venters, the Braves were dealt a terrible blow in the final game of the Philly series when rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons slid head first into second base on a heads-up, hustle double and fractured the fifth metacarpal on his right hand.

    AFTER THE ALL-STAR BREAK…

    Friday: Gee (6-7, 4.10) vs. Hudson (7-4, 3.56)

    Saturday: Dickey (12-1, 2.40) vs. Hanson (10-5, 3.71)

    Sunday: TBD vs. TBD

    Heading into the second half of the season, the Atlanta Braves are 46-39 and the New York Mets are 46-40. The Braves and Mets are 4 and 4 1/2 games behind the first place Nationals, respectively.

    The New York Mets are one of several surprises in Major League Baseball this season. A healthy David Wright, impressive pitching staff led by knuckle baller R. A. Dickey, and the contributions of role players like Daniel Murphy have kept the Mets above .500 and competitive in the tough NL East.

    Johan Santana twisted his ankle in his last start, so the Braves may not see Santana in the series. Manager Terry Collins wants to give Johan an extra couple of days in addition to the all-star break to heal. Collins says Johan will go either Sunday or Monday–if he waits until Monday, the Braves will not see the tough lefty. However, they will definitely see all-star R.A. Dickey.

    Keys for the Braves will be to continue the offensive surge they’ve exhibited lately. Keeping McCann hot after the break will be essential to a successful second half for the Braves. Continued production from Heyward, Prado, Bourn and Chipper will be important, as will getting some hits under Uggla’s belt for him to build on.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves drop key series, look to rebound vs Cubs

    Rookie SS Andrelton Simmons was 5-for-12 w/ a HR in weekend series vs Nats

    The Braves went into the 3-game series this weekend against the Nationals 3 games out of first place in the National League East. They hoped to whittle away at the Nationals’ lead, starting the final week before the All Star break in good position to move atop the division. However, their hopes were dashed by ineffective pitching that the Nats took advantage of. The Braves ended the weekend series 4 1/2 games behind the Nationals and in third place behind the Mets.

    While the Braves have struggled with runners in scoring position throughout the first half of the season, the real struggle has been with pitching. What was believed to be one of the most solid starting rotations in baseball at the start of the season has been anything but. What was believed to be an untouchable bullpen has not lived up to its billing, either. Both the rotation and the ‘pen put those struggles on display this weekend against Washington.

    Of the three starters to pitch this weekend, veteran Tim Hudson went the deepest, pitching 6 innings. Rookie Mike Minor gave the Braves 5 innings. And the least of the three came from young Randall Delgado who was pulled after 4 innings. The quality and length of all three outings was certainly impacted by triple digit temperatures in Atlanta. However, the rotation has not been going as deep as they should be and the young arms are putting in fewer and fewer innings as the season wears on. As a team, Atlanta’s starters are 14th (of 16) in the National League in innings pitched.  For the bullpen to get back to the dominance they showed last season, they can’t be called upon to eat up so many innings for starters who have the ability to give the team more innings.

    Randall Delgado has been the least consistent of the starters, something he showed in his 4 innings Friday night to start the series. Delgado has had moments of absolute brilliance and, like Friday, has struggled mightily in other starts. Though Delgado had to overcome a few snafus on the part of the defense behind him, he was unable to shut down the Nats’ offense, allowing 8 hits and 4 runs (2 of them earned). Making up for defensive blunders of his own, rookie Andrelton Simmons came through in a big way launching a game-tying 2-run homer in the 7th inning. That wouldn’t prove to be enough for the Braves after Michael Morse launched a homer of his own off Chad Durbin in the 8th–a homer that would prove the decisive moment for the Nats.

    Tim Hudson struggled in triple-digit heat Sunday (6 inn, 5 ER)

    Let’s talk about Hudson’s start and then return to Minor. In the final game of the series we were reminded of just how potent this offense could be if each of the individual pieces were working at the same time. Freddie Freeman showed off his power with a 3-run homer in the 6th inning. As Andrew Hirsh wrote for BravesWire, Martin Prado and Jason Heyward have been leading the resurgence of the offense. Michael Bourn has been the most consistent piece of the offensive puzzle this season. Andrelton Simmons has been showing that he is not only a defensive weapon for the Braves and Dan Uggla can contribute greatly when he’s hot. The pieces just haven’t come together all at once. Just one or two additional bats on top of Freeman’s blast could have given Hudson the win. Instead, the Braves finished 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

    The biggest question for the Atlanta Braves remains Mike Minor. While his opponent, fellow 2009 draft pick Stephen Strasburg, left the game early due to the heat in Atlanta, Mike Minor pitched 5 mostly uneventful innings. While he’s had stretches that have seemed unbearable, racking up a 8.84 ERA in 7 consecutive starts, he has also stepped up in key moments. Like his team, Minor has been streaky. Saturday’s win was his first since June 7th. This start was bolstered by the 9 hits and 7 runs contributed in support of Minor. A lot about Minor’s future will be determined at the trade deadline.

    Atlanta will likely be a buyer at the trade deadline, especially with the question marks in the starting rotation. Sunday the Braves signed a minor league contract with pitcher Ben Sheets. Frank Wren has said that Sheets could join the rotation in a few weeks. At this point, the trade is one of low risk and potentially high reward. Sheets will be assigned to Double-A Mississippi and will make his first start for them on Wednesday.

    CUBS COME INTO TOWN…

    Monday: Samardzija (5-7, 5.05) vs. Hanson (9-4, 3.59)

    Tuesday: Volstad (0-6, 7.46 ERA) vs. Jurrjens (1-2, 6.07)

    Wednesday: Maholm (5-6, 4.84) vs. Delgado (4-8, 4.52)

    Thursday: (4-6, 4.01) vs. Minor (4-6, 4.20)

    Despite their matching number of selections to the All Star Game (Kimbrel and Uggla for the Braves, Castro and LaHair for the Cubs), the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves are going in opposite directions this season.

    Having a lengthy home stand would usually be welcome by any team, but with the weather in Hot-lanta sweltering, the road warriors might rather be at Wrigley Field this week.

    With the exception of Craig Kimbrel, the bullpen has been giving away far too many hits and runs in recent weeks. Jonny Venters continues to struggle, O’Flaherty has been inconsistent and the is he or isn’t he going to the rotation question with Kris Medlen may need to be settled before he can be completely dominant. Chad Durbin’s recent outings have reminded Braves fans of his early days with Atlanta and how frustrating it was to see him trot out of the ‘pen.

    The Cubs are fresh off a rare sweep and are 4-4 in their last 8 games. Among NL teams, the Cubs are 11th in batting average, 15th in ERA, and 12th in fielding percentage. Chicago is 29-49 on the season and 14 games back in the NL Central (14 games behind the 1st place Reds). For a team that really needs to put a few games under their belt before the All Star break, the Braves could rebound from the lost Nats’ series by taking at least two games from the Cubs.

    Atlanta welcomes the Cubs for the 4-game series beginning at 7:10 (EST) Monday night.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.