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Braves pack momentum for the road


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By Mark Bowman / MLB.com

ATLANTA -- With the regular season's long journey consisting of five more months, it's far too early to accurately project the fate most Major League clubs will realize once October arrives. But as the Braves prepare to embark on a nine-game road trip, they find themselves in a position to establish their true identity.

"That road trip wasn't us," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "We know that. It was a bump in a road."

That bump seemingly grew into a mountain by the time the Braves completed last week's winless seven-game road trip carrying the burden of an embarrassing nine-game losing streak. But courtesy of the ebbs and flows that every regular season creates, the Braves will hit the road yet again on Tuesday fueled by the much-needed momentum they gained courtesy of this past weekend's sweep of the Astros at Turner Field.

"We've never given up on ourselves," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We got ourselves in a mess together and we'll get out of it together. We didn't want to go any deeper."

Just four days removed from what seemed to be a devastating losing streak, the Braves still find themselves in the same position they were through the first 25 games of last year -- with an 11-14 record and 3 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East.

None of the 14 Braves teams that Cox led to a division title won just 11 games through the season's first 25 games. But four of them (1992, '93, 2001, '02) began the year with a 12-13 mark and then successfully navigated the uphill climb that this year's Braves face.

"I think a lot of us are happy that April is over," McCann said. "Throughout the whole lineup, [Martin] Prado was the only one who was putting consistent ABs together. When you do that, you're not going to win many ballgames. But we've got guys in our lineup who can hit and hopefully we broke out of our mini-slump and we can move on."

During this upcoming road trip that will include three-game sets against the Nationals, Phillies and Brewers, the Braves will have a chance to show whether they're more like the club that totaled 21 runs against the Astros this past weekend or the one that scored just 17 runs during the nine-game losing streak.

"We know that we're a lot better than we showed that first month," Braves right-hander Derek Lowe said. "Everybody is anxious for us to get going and I think these past three days were a good sign."

Lowe's presence on the mound this season has certainly served as a sign of good things to come for the Braves oft-anemic offense. Cox's team has scored 46 of its 102 runs (45 percent) in the six games that have been started by the veteran sinkerballer.

The fact that the Braves have averaged just 2.95 runs in the other 21 games is a result of posting the NL's fourth-worst batting average (.238) and second-worst slugging percentage (.352). Entering this past weekend, they were hitting just .228 and slugging .339.

But with Troy Glaus going 5-for-8 to raise his batting average from .194 to .237 and Jason Heyward halting his mini-slump with a 5-for-10 performance this weekend, the Braves had no trouble outscoring the Astros, who have scored a Major League-worst 72 runs through their first 24 games.

"This was the first series where, in all three games, we had all three facets of the game," Chipper Jones said. "It was sorely needed, because after a nine-game losing streak, you're desperate for anything positive. We got a lot of positives out of this. I don't care who it's against."

Glaus' four-RBI performance on Saturday and Melky Cabrera's ability to raise his batting average from .153 to .213 over the course of the past six games has certainly provided the Braves some of the positives that they have lacked during the season's first two months.

But while Glaus and Cabrera are surging, Yunel Escobar could be headed to the disabled list and both McCann and Jones are enduring rough stretches at the plate.

McCann hasn't homered since April 11 and since last producing a multi-hit game on April 14, the All-Star catcher has batted .186 (8-for-43). Jones has recorded just two hits in the 27 at-bats he has totaled since he started feeling discomfort in his right hip on April 23.

But courtesy of a rejuvenating weekend, the Braves are not limping into this road trip. Instead, just a few days removed from what appeared to be despair, they will spend the next six days looking to take advantage of the possibility to leap frog both the Nationals and Phillies in the division standings.

"The first two series are big series," Jones said. "We can't go out and have a road trip like we did last week. It would be really, really bad. So it's imperative that we go out and at least win two of the three series."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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