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Braves having fun at the ol ballpark
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Forsyth County News
Have you made the leap yet?

On to the Braves bandwagon?

Better hurry; it’s getting crowded.

And no wonder. As the season gallops to its halfway point, the Braves are playing the game as well as anyone.

Even more important, they’re having fun. Over the long summer to come, that may be the best thing the club has going for it. As Skip used to say, you can’t beat fun at the ol’ ballpark.

Saturday’s scene was just the latest episode. Have you ever seen a team orchestrate a toast to a teammate as spontaneously and perfectly as the Braves’ tribute to Chipper Jones? That’s the same Chipper Jones who spent the first 10 weeks of the season as the black hole in the lineup.
That is, when he was actually in the lineup.

Things got so bad that Jones met with Braves management to plan his exit strategy. Or so the speculation went. Not wanting to be a distraction, Jones called a press conference to say that he didn’t want to be a distraction. Which created more distraction.

Then, in an effort to quell speculation, he indicated that he would not address the end of his career until the end of the season. Which, of course, caused more rampant speculation.

But somehow something clicked. Since he called his press conference to say nothing, Jones has hit everything. Including Joel Zumaya’s 99-mile-per-hour fastball in the seventh inning Saturday that spun a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.

How amazing was Jones’ laser into the right-centerfield bleachers? It was his first three-run homer since last September. It was also the first homer allowed by Zumaya since last July. In fact, in Zumaya’s five seasons, he’s allowed only three three-run homers, and one grand slam.

End result: the Braves let their elder statesman trot out onto the field for the eighth inning while everyone else stayed in the dugout. All things considered, it was the perfect tribute at the perfect time. Another example of a team having fun.

And why not? Through Sunday, the Braves had spent the entire month of June in their old habitat — first place.

They played some doggone good baseball to get there, and stay there. On April 29, after losing their ninth straight game, the Braves flew home from St. Louis a dazed, beaten, rudderless and confused ballclub.

They stood 8-14, in last place, five games behind the Mets. Heck, they were three games out of fourth place. Since then, the Braves have gone 36-18, an incredible .667 pace. They’ve picked up 5.5 games on the Mets, 7 on the Phillies, 11.5 on the Marlins and 15 on the Nats.

Now, a baseball team rarely wins two out of three over the course of the season. So, to do so over a third of a season indicates that you’ve got a pretty solid ballclub.

Just how well have they played? A month into the season, the Braves had outscored exactly two teams in the National League. Now they’ve been outscored by two. The team that was hitting .228 through April 25 is now hitting .261.

And patience has become a virtue. The Braves lead the league in on base percentage, which translates into many good things, none of which are Jeff Francoeur.

The Braves hit more than well enough to support a solid pitching staff ranked sixth in the league in earned run average. The nice thing about this staff is that you rarely cringe regardless of who is on the mound.

The Braves are even breaking a few notable tendencies of late. Saturday’s win marked Kenshin Kawakami finally getting off the schneid. Friday night, the Braves beat Andrew Oliver, who was making his Major League debut. Usually, mixing the Braves with a young pitcher they haven’t seen is a loss waiting to happen.

Though they got only two runs off of Oliver in six innings, the second, go-ahead, game-winning run came on a homer by Brian McCann.
Previously this season, McCann had been 2-for-17 (.118) against rookie pitchers.

It’s not all seashells and balloons, of course. Jason Heyward’s sore thumb and resultant lack of production remains irksome. Tommy Hanson’s last two starts are cause for concern. The bullpen’s logged lots of innings. Will Billy Wagner remain healthy?

But who cares? They’re playing well and having fun. No wonder the bandwagon’s getting crowded.