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)