Welcome to the intersection of first place and the second half. If that seems rare territory for the Braves, it’s because they haven’t been in this position to open play after the All-Star break since 2003. (Even in 2004 and 2005, the last two first-place finishes in the string of 14 straight, the Braves were in second place at the break.)
“Seems like home,” Chipper Jones said with a smile after batting practice.
Is it all coming together? Seems like it.
Starting tonight’s series opener against Milwaukee is Jair Jurrjens, who returned from injury just before the break and threw six strong innings (three runs, two hits) against Philadelphia. Joining him in the lineup and back in right field (and batting second) is Jason Heyward, who returns from a thumb injury. (Heyward will wear a guard on his thumb when he’s on the bases but not when he’s batting.)
Also tonight, Alex Gonzalez makes his debut as a Brave. He just held a media session in front of his locker and he seems very at ease in his new surroundings (maybe there’s four others from Venezuela in clubhouse: Martin Prado, Omar Infante, Gregor Blanco, coach Eddie Perez).
I’ve got some good stuff from Gonzalez for the column, but here are a few snippets: His agent phoned him a couple of times around 10 a.m. to inform him of the trade but Gonzalez didn’t answer because he was still sleeping.
“Too early,” he said.
But when he eventually got up and looked at the caller ID, he knew he had been traded because his agent lives in San Diego. “There’s no way he would be calling me that early if it was something else.”
But Gonzalez was certain he had been traded to St. Louis. Why? Well . . . ah, I’m going to save that for the column. (I know. I’m such a tease.)
Suffice to say, he’s thrilled to be a Brave. He leaves a team (Toronto) that was 12 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East, with no real hope of passing the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay or Boston, and joins a team (Braves) that leads the National League East over the Mets (four games) and Philadelphia (4 1/2) and is being talked about as a World Series team.
This also happened to Gonzalez last season. He was dealt from Cincinnati to Boston during a pennant race and wound up playing for the Red Sox in the American League playoffs.
That’s it for now. I can’t recall this much anticipation for the second half of a season in a few years.
One more thing before we get into tonight’s live blog. Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog suggesting (somewhat jokingly) that the Braves should start a “Vote For Prado” All-Star campaign, spinning off the “Vote for Pedro” campaign in, “Napoleon Dynamite.”
For the record, I’m not taking credit for Prado making the All-Star team. I must concede: His league-leading .325 average probably had something to do with that. But the blog actually launched two “Vote For Prado” Facebook pages and some fans designing T-shirts. One is Curt Linder (@curtl on Twitter). Just giving him a shout-out here. Curt contacted me on Facebook to tell me that he sold about 30 shirts via Cafe Press, just on a whim, and is going to donate the proceeds to charity. If you would still like to buy a shirt, here’s the Cafe Press link. I was hoping to get a picture of him wearing a shirt but unfortunately he’s on his way to Hilton Head. (Must be tough.) But here’s a tip of the cap to Curt.
OK, onto the game. I’ll be back in a little while and get to your questions.
Earlier posts today