Atlanta Braves: The week ahead

All-Star cameos, home run derbies and Chris Berman’s aged
back-back-back-gone calls signify a much-anticipated break for the
Braves for the early portion of this week – well, for all but four
players.

With centerfielder Michael Bourn’s late
addition to the National League All-Star roster over the weekend – he
replaces injured Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond – the Braves will
feature guys all over Tuesday’s All-Star festivities: two infielders, an
outfielder and one of the best closers in the
game.

It also will give teams a stint of rest before
heading into the second half of the season, which looks to provide a
tight division race in the N.L. East, with the upstart Washington
Nationals leading the Braves, New York Mets (Atlanta’s sole opponent
this week) and, to a lesser extent, the Miami Marlins. It feels strange
to see the Philadelphia Phillies at the bottom of that list, but Atlanta
completed its three-game sweep of the division rival on Sunday and will
cross its collective fingers that that momentum will carry into the
months of August, September and
October.

This
Week:

Tuesday: MLB
All-Star Game, 8:00 p.m. (FOX)
Friday: New
York Mets at Atlanta, 7:35 p.m. (FOX Sports South, Peachtree TV); Dillon
Gee (6-7, 4.10 ERA) vs. Tim Hudson (7-4, 3.56
ERA)
Saturday: New York Mets at Atlanta,
4:05 p.m. (FOX); R.A. Dickey (12-1, 2.40 ERA) vs. Tommy Hanson (10-5,
3.71 ERA)
Sunday: New York Mets at Atlanta,
1:35 p.m. (FOX Sports South) Jonathon Niese (7-4, 3.73 ERA) vs.
TBA

Look out
for:

The race for the pennant starts here.
The Braves come off the All-Star break just a half game up on the Mets —
and four games behind the division-leading Nationals — and this series
could be a significant step out of the gate. Atlanta was hitting on all
cylinders heading into the break, literally, and if Brian McCann, who
has homered in four consecutive games, can officially put a rather quiet
first half behind him then this lineup immediately becomes much more
dangerous. The team boasts the best outfield in baseball so far in 2012,
and if McCann, Freddie Freeman and All-Stars Dan Uggla and Chipper
Jones round out the lineup in the same fashion as they have during the
Braves’ current four-game winning streak, perhaps not even the top of
the Mets rotation can slow them down.

But that’s not a
promise. The Braves will surely face unpredictable and occasionally
un-hittable (or one-hittable) knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the expected
starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game. His 12-1
record is no joke. Dickey proved to be one of the five best pitchers in
baseball during the first half of the season with his unheard of
80-mile-per-hour knuckler—he’s averaging 9.23 strikeouts per nine
innings and his 120 innings pitched has been a Godsend for manager Terry
Collins’ bullpen. Following up Dickey will likely be some combination
of Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee and, perhaps, Johan
Santana.

Who’s
hot:

Brian McCann took his first All-Star
absence to heart by hitting home runs in four-consecutive games, a
streak that is still alive entering the Mets series. McCann is 8-for-16
(.500) in his last five games played—all Atlanta wins—adding on a
whopping nine RBIs. His .882 slugging percentage in the month of July
leads all of baseball … It would have been a travesty if Michael Bourn
had not made the All-Star roster, especially in the wake of the
underwhelming Jay Bruce, and his current hot streak proves why. Bourn
sprinted into the All-Star break by reaching base in 16 of his 35 July
plate appearances (.485 OBP) … Jair Jurrjens is 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in
his last four starts … The omnipresent Chipper Jones is hitting .500 in
the month of July (11-for-22) … Gee has pitched well for the Mets of
late, collecting a 2-2 record over his last four starts with just a 3.08
ERA … Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy has hit his stride a bit this
month, hitting .478 with five RBIs in seven games … All-Star third
baseman David Wright leads the Mets with nine RBIs in July – tied for
third-most in the National
League.

Who’s
not:

One home run does not assure that Dan
Uggla has finally broken out of his recent slump. The All-Star second
baseman has still collected just 10 hits over the past month (.114),
with his last multi-hit game coming on June 5. With just two home runs
over that same stretch, Uggla limps into the break hoping his final game
of the first half will help right the ship … Andrelton Simmons was
hitting just .160 in 29 plate appearances in the month of July, but a
broken hand will sideline him for the next few weeks after his headfirst
slide into second base on Sunday … Mets first baseman Ike Davis has
been awful this month, collecting a meager .182 on-base percentage in 22
plate appearances to accompany his underwhelming fielding and
baserunning … If possible, outfielder Lucas Duda has been worse than
Davis, hitting just .160 in 29 plate
appearances.

Injuries:

Atlanta:
Andrelton Simmons (fractured right hand, out 4-6 weeks); Jonny Venters
(elbow, placed on 15-day DL); Tim Hudson (day-to-day,
ankle); 
New York: Jason Bay
(concussion, 7-day DL); Frank Francisco (back, 15-day DL); Johan Santana
(ankle, day-to-day)