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Day of rest curious for red-hot Braves
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Forsyth County News
The Braves took a breather Monday, after rounding the season’s quarter pole in fine fashion.

They’ll be well rested when they begin the second quarter. That’s because manager Bobby Cox chose to give most of his regulars the day off Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Faced with the daunting task of playing 20 games in 20 days, Cox chose to deploy a lineup reminiscent of a split-squad game in spring training.

We don’t expect to see Brian McCann behind the plate the day after a late night game, though he did manage to catch last Thursday’s game. Cox has a long-standing tradition of using Sunday as his first string catcher’s day of rest.

But also out of the lineup was Chipper Jones, who has already missed a week’s worth of games this season. To be fair, Jones probably has some ailment that benefitted from the additional rest.

The Braves Now and Future Best Player, Jason Heyward, also received a pass, but his day off was injury related. He has a sore thumb, contracted while sliding into third base on May 14.

Sadly, also among the missing was the Braves’ best batsman to date, Eric Hinske. Why? He’s only amassed 68 at bats all season. What wore him out? He’s also hit .368 with 4 homeruns and 20 runs batted in. At his current RBI frequency, if Hinske could garner 500 at bats, he’d knock in 147 runs.

Proving the point and adding to our bewilderment, Hinske pinch-hit in the eighth inning Sunday, and promptly drilled a game-tying home run.     
Meanwhile, the rest of the Braves irregulars were going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, wasting another excellent start by Kris Medlen.

Martin Prado, removed from his comfort zone at the top of the lineup with Heyward hitting behind him, went 0-for-5, hit into two doubleplays, and looked at a called strike three in the top of the 10th with two outs and the go-ahead run at second.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. David Ross had a couple hits, knocked in the Braves other run, and made an excellent put-out at the plate. Omar Infante produced his customary two hits, which raised another question: this guy hits like a regular, so why doesn’t he play every day?

Hasn’t Cox seen enough of Nate McLouth and Melkey Cabrera, or is he unlike the rest of us? Last Tuesday night against the Mets, Cox inserted Cabrera into the lineup in place of Hinske. Cox told the AJC, “Cabrera hasn’t played in a long time; he needs to be in there.” Why, do tell, aside from the fact that it strengthens the bench?

Cabrera did fashion the winning hit, but only because he was unable to lay down the requested bunt. The hit was a high chopper halfway to third, which David Wright grabbed and hurled down the right field line while the winning run scored.

Are we being overly critical here? Cox certainly has a proven track record, and if he says Sunday was a good day for doubling up on rest, it shouldn’t spawn second-guessing. And, of course, baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. One game isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of the whole season.

Or is it?

For quite some time now, the Braves have been unable to build momentum. Every time you think an exciting win is going to spur a winning streak, disappointment follows.

Take the April 20 win over the Phillies. Remember? The Braves hit three homers in the final four at bats to tie the game in the ninth, and win it in the tenth. And McLouth, of all people, hit the game winner.

What ensued? The nine-game losing streak. Then the Braves swept the lowly Astros. Good Momentum? No, they lost two out of three in Washington and Philadelphia. But then they swept three in Milwaukee. Go figure.

Arriving home, they took two of three from Arizona, but the loss was an 11-1 debacle. Then they lost to a Mets team that hadn’t won in a week.
Naturally, the walk-off win on Cabrera’s smash to third followed.

Then the Braves broke their pattern. They fashioned another walk-off win, with Heyward’s two-out double in the ninth producing a 5-4 win over the Reds. That after they blew a 4-0 lead, and Billy Wagner surrendered the tying homer in the top of the ninth.

Thursday followed with the greatest comeback in Braves history. Brooks Conrad capped a seven-run ninth inning rally with an improbable grand slam which made him an instant youtube sensation.

So when the Braves followed those three walk-off wins with two solid wins in Pittsburgh, you couldn’t help but feel that the Braves were on an inexorable roll.

Then we saw Sunday’s lineup.

As difficult as it is to harness momentum, it’ll be interesting to see if the rested Braves play with any in Florida. And it’ll be interesting to see of Sunday’s loss remains just another game.