NL East Update
By Tom Brew
It may be too little too late, but the Atlanta Braves have certainly been interesting to watch lately and have been as sure of a bet as there is.
Chipper Jones did something that hadn’t been done since 1927, recording an extra-base hit in 14 straight games, tying a record set by Paul Waner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And the Braves, who were horrible in June, have suddenly won six games in a row entering Tuesday. With the wild-card race in the National League in complete upheaval, it might be time to rescind that “The Braves Are Done’’ line.
They finally look like a real baseball team in this winning streak. Monday night, catcher Brian McCann hit the first grand slam of his career, and Wilson Betemit and Adam LaRoche each had four hits and a homer in a 15-3 thumping of the Cardinals in St. Louis.
The Braves have scored in double digits four consecutive games, the first time they've done that since 1993.
That’s a long time, too.
"It was an awesome game," said Jones, who went 3-for-5 with three singles and a walk to snap his extra-base hits streak. "I'm not disappointed. I knew it was going to end at some point. It's nice to have my name up there. I'd like to have it up there alone, but I'm not going to be disappointed by 15 runs and another win."
Jones did extend his conventional hitting streak to 17 games. But for the first time in a while, neither Jones — Chipper nor Andruw — carried the bulk of the load in another resounding hitting display by the Braves. Betemit had a career-high five RBIs, LaRoche drove in three runs and Jeff Francoeur added three hits with a triple.
"Ever since I became the hitting coach the second half, we've been hitting the ball pretty good," joked manager Bobby Cox, whose Braves have recorded a staggering 63 hits, 51 runs and 15 homers while winning their first four games since the All-Star break vs. NL West-leading San Diego and Central-leading St. Louis.
The Braves are posting some startling numbers. They have the NL's best record (10-3) in July and lead the majors by wide margins in virtually every offensive category for the month, batting .350 with 31 homers and 113 runs (8.7 per game).
They have won 10 of their past 12 games and 14 of 20 since a 3-20 skid, and they have slashed their wild-card deficit in half since July 1, down to five games behind leader Cincinnati.
"I don't know what's going on right now," said LaRoche, who hit his 16th homer Monday. "You try not to look back at when we were struggling and get mad about that and why we did so bad. This is what we expected out of spring training. This is what the players and management and everybody had in mind.
"We're playing catch-up now, but this isn't a bad time to get hot. We're not out of this thing. We've got the wild card right there. Don't be surprised if we get a little tighter with the division [race]."
Talk of winning a 15th straight division title might be a tad premature, but at least they are showing some signs of life, something I certainly never expected. Let’s see how long it lasts.
PELFREY A KEY FOR METS: With good pitching hard to find right now just weeks before the trading deadline, the Mets are hoping their faith in rookie Mike Pelfrey isn’t unfounded.
Pelfrey made his major league debut on July 8, starting the second game of a doubleheader against the Marlins. He gave up three runs (two earned) in five innings, allowing five hits and four walks and striking out three.
He’ll get another start Tuesday night at Cincinnati. He’s an Ohio native, so he’ll have some friends and family on hand. Perhaps that will help relax him more, although he seems to think he's already more relaxed.
"I think [I'll be calmer]. Especially just being in the dugout, around the games, you kind of get used to the atmosphere," Pelfrey said. "And it's like being in Chicago. I get used to the atmosphere, and I'm not really nervous. I'm not really kind of in awe anymore when I go out there.
"I think in the first game, I'm pretty much in it, you know?" Pelfrey added. "And everything's just kind of like in awe and you're just kind of in shock. The more you're around it, the more you get used to it."
The kid has great stuff and he could be the answer to the back-of-the-rotation blues. With the Mets hitting the way they are, this is probably a good spot for a Mets wager.